The Street Angel
Television viewers regularly saw his handsome face. So exotic, kind and we fell madly in love. When I became pregnant he pledged to always stand by me, his woman, his queen – we would live and die together. I heard the exotic romance; I missed the death sentence of his words.
The Home Devil
Our son was six weeks old when this man smashed my head into a wall. Following the Domestic Violence script, I believed his explanations and forgave him. I ignored the feeling in my gut. Understanding his need for success I borrowed $100,000 from my parents to buy a restaurant, for us, for our dream.
Despite its success and my input I learned about financial abuse – another part of Domestic Violence. He refused to give me, or even tell me what the takings were. I lost our second baby when he hit me with a baseball bat, in the stomach. Even then, despite the promises, he didn’t listen to “No!” and I ended up pregnant again. I eventually closed the restaurant, lost everything and left him. But he didn’t leave us.
He hounded us, taking all my strength, leaving me only enough energy to survive, knowing better than to object to his decisions and whims. I was a captive of the relationship – a prisoner of his violent and cruel ways which he would mask with mass amounts of adoration and love. The merry-go-round of an abusive relationship takes more room than I have here. It’s promises, the love of his queen, peace, dreams and a future. It’s a child conceived in great passion, born in joy but raised in a jumbled environment of violence, anger and shame, love at a price, financial complexity too difficult to untangle and a baby’s smile. You get lulled into a false sense of security because you are desperate for some peace, and you get caught again. I have been leaving him since 1994. He invades everywhere I am. He says he owns us, we are his. In his country he could kill us for leaving him. Always we are reminded he could do it here.
Enter the System
In 1997 I walked out of a courthouse with an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO). I questioned a policeman, called a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer, “Is this it? A piece of paper? This is going to change him?” He said it was up to me to make it work by calling us when he breached it. My husband warned them he would breach it immediately, and he did. And did. And did. And did it again.
Again the assaults, the control went on for hours, for days, for weeks. He was not stopped by the piece of paper. It was up to me to report the breaches but just a few times could I make it to the phone. The phone became a weapon with which he bashed me. It’s hard to describe that complicated, changing time – I felt almost catatonic – too powerless to even think, let alone plan, gather resources and escape yet again. Despite that piece of paper. He was disparaging of white men, white law, and particularly white women.
The last time I left him was after I was hospitalised for a suspected heart attack – he had punched my chest so hard. The result – cardiac muscle trauma. I was 27 years old, very slim, strong. A karate brown belt. It doesn’t matter – there is no contest – you just lose worse if you try.
A Father’s Rights
The courts say he must have access to the children – they are entitled to know their father but when I gave in and let him visit them he wouldn’t leave. The violence started again, just a new location. Again I was powerless for too long, but eventually I risked everything, actually got to the phone, dialled all the numbers and reached the police. I babbled what I had endured – all those breaches of the orders on the paper. The magistrate issued a $300 sanction. He still hasn’t paid the fine.
The next breach I reported got the response from police “Have you asked him not to call?” My sense of disbelief was overwhelming – they just don’t get it. All I said was “He respects nothing!” How do you even begin to explain it in the limited time they have for you?
The Children – Victims of Domestic Violence, and More
The children are violent. I thought it was because they were continually caught up in their father’s cruel, dangerous and destructive ways. In late 1997 I discovered something else about this charismatic man; he was a paedophile. That’s the neat legal expression for this father who loudly proclaims his love, proudly admires and leads his sons, aged two and four, “To be men, to be warriors!” and who not only finds satisfaction in raping and using and exploiting me, but also rapes, sodomises and has oral sex with his sons.
My Babies, Aged Two and Four
In the world of Domestic Violence, sexual violence is a common facet. The result is my babies are sexually violent as well as physically violent. As their mother, their only protector, I have researched, contacted and begged for support in dealing with this awful problem, from every possible avenue dealing with child sexual abuse. This includes liaising with federal, state and local politicians.
I have desperately tried to get some media interest in our plight, to try and force some change. Everyone “says” and probably believes that they do not accept child sexual abuse. Yet I cannot get action to stop this father’s right to have access to his sons, his victims.
The Standard of Proof
The System works like this. There is a JIRT team (Joint Investigative Response Team) – Police and Community Services, which was notified of the disclosures my elder son was making.
The team met with the children but the rules prevent broaching the topic of child abuse at all – the children must disclose without any prompting. Only when I entered the conversation would the children “disclose”. (The fact that’s when they felt safe enough to speak out is irrelevant – it could be seen that I might have pre-coached them!!!!). My eldest told the JIRT team that he would “put a stick up his brother’s bottom if he had one”.
While my AVO was immediately adjusted by them to include the children, the JIRT team said the child’s disclosure “wouldn’t be enough to stand up in court” so no criminal action would be taken. They referred the children to a child psychologist. The children violently attacked him yet he was reluctant to say the children appeared to be abused. He wasn’t prepared to say the father had done it, even though the eldest was saying that he had. He seemed to have an escape clause – saying he’d seen other children who were violent for other reasons. Because of those other cases he doubted my two little boys.
There were many similar sessions with various experts. Everyone had many ideas about what I might do, who I might contact. I had lists and lists of things to research, to do, people to see – everyone had advice but there is no organised, consistent process available to people like us. It nearly drove me out of my mind – the competing and never ending pressure of my two boys and their high dependency, poverty, endless attempts, costs, disappointments, failures to ring back, and always, the waiting for him to get access because the Legal System seems to value this awful right of a father – irrespective of his illegal, immoral, violent behaviour. The fear I had that he would get to see them and destroy the progress we had made was over everything. I couldn’t give in – how could I betray those little boys?
Challenging the Experts
Through all these processes I fought to overcome the disbelief in my head – all these so-called experts, all nice people, yet none can help two little boys live in safety. And I felt they blamed me – somehow my parenting was questioned. There was little practical help – just this dawning comprehension that we were “too hard”.
I have a dedicated case worker with Family Services. She has worked many long and fruitless hours on our behalf. I truly appreciate her efforts – but in the end they are not enough. Children under eight are too young to give, and defend, their evidence.
I asked all the various services reps to meet together, with me. Everyone reviewed what they had done. They were very defensive. No one was prepared to try to develop a strategy that could protect my children from sexual abuse, except to suggest that I could try to prove further domestic violence (get bashed again to prove a point) and hopefully the judge MIGHT deny access for that reason. Which they admitted they thought may be highly unlikely. At the end of that meeting I was exhausted – I pointed out that at the end of the day it would again be me, alone, who would go home to my children. My violent abusive little victims of these awful crimes. Knowing no one could help them.
A Bit of General Information
All cases where the child is too young to be successful at cross examination in a court are turned away. How many of you out there know your little children have no legal protection from sexual abuse? How many paedophiles are there walking the streets that the law is aware of and does nothing about!
But I kept trying. I went to their bosses in parliament. I have a caring ally there but he can’t get anywhere. So the general response is “This government does not accept child abuse and has strategies in place to reflect that. Sorry they’re not working for you, good luck and goodbye”.
My children are too young. Not too young to be victims – just too young for “The System”; too young to give evidence, too young to withstand the persecution of court. And when they are old enough they will be expected to recall what day, what time, what place, which clothes each wore, what he did, what time it was, and why didn’t they report it? And I will be accused of coaching them.
Mothers should know they are always targeted – accused of being vindictive, of making false allegations “to get even”. Logic doesn’t matter – like why on God’s Earth would we choose to live like this? And it doesn’t matter which court – local, criminal, Family – each will try to divert attention from what happened by blaming the victims – the violence is only happening because of a Family Law dispute – accusations aren’t real they are just a mechanism to win – it will all settle down. After a great deal of money is wasted on lawyers. That is, if you have money.
How do children cope when the “love” of a father enforces his unlawful and despicable ways as being right? Surely our system can address this problem?
The Family Court
The father wants “access”. After all – he believes he owns us. Without doubt it is a most exhausting, long, expensive and unsatisfactory process. There’s no money left – I’ve spent what little I had trying to get help.
Despite my turmoil and exhaustion I know things are better for not having contact with him. The children are much calmer, much better behaved and have stopped waking – choking at night, stopped screaming from their sleep, “make him stop, make him take it out Mummy”. Not so quick to grab for a knife, a stick anything to use as a weapon. Not so determined to offer their bodies to any adult then attack them when they refuse. It still happens – but far less often.
The experts don’t see it – they don’t do home visits or video cameras. It has been hinted at heavily and threateningly that I might be coaching them. Why would I do it to myself? It seems blame the mother is easier than dealing with a cunning, sadistic paedophile.
About Legal Assistance
I can’t get any more Legal Aid – they’ve decided my case has “No merit”. They even said 95% of child sex assault allegations are false. (The DPP’s main work is dealing with these cases – who is wrong here?). I said “False under the criteria of proof for court and the law, but not in real life.” With no legal aid I’m on my own. No one gathers the evidence, gets the affidavits, and the processes are so complicated. How can I, or the children present a thorough case, when really I need thousands of dollars to pay a decent solicitor and a barrister to investigate, and fight for us?
I hate the disinterest that follows hot on the heals of “No money-no help”. You know the solicitor never really cared about you and your kids. They told me to give in and warned me I could go to jail if I don’t let him have access. He can not turn up, change his mind, as he pleases and without sanction, but I have to get them ready, just in case. Tell me – what do I say to them? And why does he pretend he needs, and get an interpreter when he has good passes in English and often speaks publicly, a barrister and a solicitor at government expense through legal aid, when I cannot.
How can the judge call me racist and demand I get counselling or risk losing the children, then gently admonish him to understand he upsets the boys if he doesn’t turn up to access. You don’t live with a man and have two children with him if you are racist! How can they ignore evidence of his drug use as if it does not exist? Tell me how I get past the betrayal in my boys’ eyes if he rapes them again? How can I keep them safe in the face of such determination against me by the system?
I feel like I’m going mad – such is my disbelief and at all these issues at once. The helping professionals are good at one thing – and that’s pointing the finger at me saying “She’s not coping too well!”
His solicitors are seeking an injunction (restraining order) to stop me getting counselling for the children! I simply cannot believe he gets such apparent support and “my” solicitors have done nothing but frighten and demean me. I’m not the rapist!
Once you need solicitors it’s like being in a different world. A world where humanity is absent and the practitioners are caught up in self-interest and greed as they promise to help you. They suck out all your secrets, the shame of your life and they exploit your compassion, your morals, and your humanity. You tell them these things because you trust they care and they are on your side. It doesn’t matter that you have no criminal past – you can be accused and found guilty without police investigations or without the traditional protections for those accused. At the end they have no responsibility for what they do. You can’t even sue them for negligence – they say they were acting on your instructions.
Peace, Understanding and Darned Good Advice
Among the “helping” professionals you occasionally find a shining gem; a human. A sheer coincidence put Robyn from VOCAL and me in the same court at the same time. I now have a support team – sort of a family, at VOCAL, who treat me like a person, a real person not some dumb victim of my own stupidity.
If I explain a problem with the children, instead of a judgemental response I hear “Parenting is the most difficult job I’ve ever done too!” She hears me out. She gently offers some ideas or strategies. It’s never too much bother. I feel wanted, respected, loved, appreciated, ordinary. She admires and supports my achievements; she offers sensible, assertive strategies, thinks outside the square (which is pretty important since I clearly don’t fit into a neat little box). And she thinks of me and just rings to say hello and to ask whether I’ve taken the time to notice what a gorgeous day we’re having. For me sometimes life comes breath by breath. She gives me darned good reason to live.
Maybe the real difference is she knows what it is like, how complicated, how demeaning, how inappropriate the responses are for victims.
Each day has challenges – some jump up and bite me. I went to the official opening of “Mayumarri” a beautiful, healing place, a retreat for survivors of sexual abuse. I went in great joy, I left in tears. Even this wonderful achievement is not there for us. Open to people ten years old and older, my eldest has six years to wait. And his little brother still can’t go with us.
This short version of my hell on earth is unfinished. Please, lobby your state politicians to protect the children by immediate reform of the legal system to a more inquisitorial (truth seeking) model in criminal law and it’s the federal politicians who are responsible for the Family law.
We must have a presumption against contact where there is violence and abuse. You have to imagine yourself in my shoes. You have to feel it. You have to understand that the mother could so easily be your sister, your child, your grandchild. This should be a wonderful democracy. Please – make them make it safe, at least for the children!
Susan October 2002
Footnote: Cases like Susan’s are easily found. The Federal Government are investigating the idea that at separation or divorce, we should start with the presumption that mother and father should each get 50/50 joint custody unless it can be shown ‘why not’. Susan would have had to let the father have 50% of the parenting time with the boys.