Name withheld for legal reasons
A Little Girl
When I was a child, things were never all right although I always tried to make it seem that way. I remember always trying to please everyone, to live up to their expectations. My Nan called me her little shining star. Dad always called me his little princess. Mum and Dad were always fighting with really only a few good times that the whole family enjoyed.
When they broke up I went to live with Nan. She explained how much more she could give me, and she bought me everything I could want – they were wealthy. By then I already carried a secret with me, a secret I knew I had to keep. I didn’t want to make things in my family worse. Pop always said ‘Don’t ever tell Nan – it will kill her’. I loved Pop, although of course I didn’t understand what he was doing to me, or the criminality of it. I absolutely adored my Nan – I couldn’t have hurt her. I couldn’t bear it if she had died because of something I did.
A child in a position like this just can’t know how to make “right” decisions. What parent explains to their children that danger lurks within their own family? The child is often forced to believe, agree with and obey the one who preys upon them and calls it their special, secret love.
The child-victim may be young yet they still have all kinds of mixed emotions – sadness, anger, depression, confusion and just plain scared all mixed up with being told how special they are. They don’t know what to do, or who it’s safe to tell. That is why most children will keep secrets in the dark as long as they can. What is a child meant to say to their other loved ones about a “predator” who is a close family member, a respected and loved civic father or part of an extended family or everyone’s friend? The one who preys will try anything to keep their victim from disclosing abuse, and take advantage of any opportunity. I didn’t know that I should keep a diary, remember dates, what clothes he wore – what he did to me time, after time, after time after time. I was too young to even know what a date was, or how to describe details of rooms, times of year, etc…or what he did to me.
My family were in a horrible car accident. There was death and dreadful injury. What was happening to me didn’t even seem to matter compared to this. Sometimes I still get very angry and very sad.
When I got older – about 14, I couldn’t take any more. I recognised that my life had already been very different, and a happy, normal childhood was a myth for me.
I kept my secret so I didn’t hurt my Nan but I started to feel really angry. Back home I believed no-one would understand. I still relied on my Nan’s love – she was the one person I thought truly loved me and I thought that love was forever.
After a while my life started to get worse. I didn’t fit in anywhere – I felt different everywhere. I was drinking and doing drugs – it was the only way for me to cope with my secret.
I can remember the way the nurses look at you when you get admitted to hospital. They blame me – a bad kid. No good. A druggie. Suicide was always on my mind, I also tried a few times. I don’t want to talk about that.
At 15 I discovered a secret about my younger sister that I wish I never knew. She was also being preyed upon by our grandfather so now what was I meant to do?
I couldn’t let her go through it. Being the older one it was up to me. I was in shock; I’d thought that part of my life was over and done with, as I had removed myself from that problem.
I told my sister not to say anything to our mum. She was five. She said “O.K.”, however it didn’t go to plan, she cried and cried all night until I finally said “Just tell her what happened “. So my sister told my mum. Our mum knew immediately. She turned straight to me and said “That’s why you left isn’t it?” I thought so much about saying “No” but I had to get it off my chest. I remember crying ‘Please don’t kill him!’ because I thought for sure she would. I told my mum that it happened to me for all those years – now everyone was in shock.
I couldn’t stop thinking about my sister. I never wanted her to have to feel the emotional pain and anger when she was older. I knew how much it wrecked my life, now the main thing was to ensure she was alright.
I blamed myself – if I’d spoken up she would not have been harmed.
We spoke to people from a place called JIRT (the Joint Investigative Response Team). We reported the crimes, made statements and started preparing for our day in court, assuming “That’s that!”
It wasn’t that simple, not at all.
I knew that my Nan thought we were lying. Pop denied the lot. My dad and other family members on that side of the family stood by Pop – yet most of them have young children themselves. Sometimes I wonder if it’s already happened to them. Years down the track one of them might turn around and say it happened to them too, and then won’t everyone on that side feel like complete idiots!
At the last minute we dropped my sister’s case. We knew their lawyer was going to rip her apart – after all she’s still only seven by then. Me, being the older one, thought I could do it for both of us, tell our stories, by myself.
The Committal – The Trial before the Trial
Some committals are paper committals. That means the decision on whether to go to trial is made by the magistrate on the written papers and reports. Not me though. The defence wanted every chance to humiliate me, mess with my head and abuse me in person. They knew I had a history of self-abuse (because of the crime) so the best way to win was to break me, denigrate my character, confuse me etc.
From what the ‘experts’ told me, I expected a closed court, but that didn’t happen. I was scared walking into an open court with my whole of that side of my family sitting there inside, jeering and pointing at me. I had all my friends and my mum’s friends and her family with me. I didn’t know who to look at, I don’t like being on show and there was no way to hide.
I was a nervous wreck, I was sick days before court with worry that we were going to lose, however I won, not only because we were going to trial, but in my heart. I looked into my Pop’s eyes as he sat there that day. I realised he was nothing more to me than rubbish lying on the street. I knew there would be doubts in everyone’s mind as to whether it really happened, but the magistrate believed me and the evidence and sent him for trial by jury. That magistrate needs to know he probably saved my life by believing me. I could not have found the strength to go on at that time.
Now it was back to waiting, just trying to get back on track with life, waiting for the next time in court. You can never get it off of your mind, no matter what. School and TAFE became difficult – then impossible. What was on my mind made schoolwork seem irrelevant – the rules unreasonable – being made to be a child was crazy. The crime cost me my school education as well as my childhood.
The 1st Full Trial
Time came for the trial to begin. I was as scared as anything. Now there was a jury of another twelve strangers, knowing I had to convince them that it happened to me, believing all I had to do was tell the truth. It brought back all those terrible memories of my childhood.
Childhood should have good memories, not bad. I made it through the first day, by thinking of my sister and how this had all affected her life. It was hard to tell the truth because they don’t ask you questions that let you tell it, and they say “You can’t say this, and you can’t say that or the trial will be aborted!” For example, my little sister didn’t exist. So how can you tell the truth if you even have to ‘lie’ about what really happened, or else the Crown will be cranky at you? So it’s nothing like the whole truth, especially as they picked a few times it happened to me, and of course her case, her assaults, like her, just did not exist. The system told me to ignore the almost constant, daily assaults and be able to differentiate the ones they wanted me to focus on.
Court lasted four days and ended in an aborted trial insisted upon by the defence. But I couldn’t even stay to hear what he said, because before the judge called the jury back in, I left the courtroom. I ran.
Later everyone told me how the judge told the jury to go and tell the media about this ridiculous legal system. He also criticised the DPP, saying they were unprepared and had let me down. The DPP told us the Judge was mad.
I began to see how the police – who were kind and good to me – were separate from the DPP, and the DPP were separate from the judge. They do not all work together ‘for justice’. That is learning no victim should have to experience ‘to find out’.
Without that Judge’s comments, I would have suicided with shame and failure – because I let everyone down. Funny there are so many different opinions – different angles. It’s not about me or my sister at all.
I know people say ‘I would have killed myself’ and don’t mean it, but I really did – I felt worthless, stupid, a failure. I had so much anger and pain inside to think of four days of heartache for nothing I started abusing my uncle outside. Then my mum, family, and friends on my side came outside knowing that I had had enough. After thinking what I was going to do, I wanted to hug my Nan; I loved and missed her so much. I walked back up the stairs of the courtroom, my mum just standing at the bottom saying “Don’t do it, they’re not worth it”. At that moment I felt my Nan was everything in this world to me. I wanted her to say “I’m sorry, I miss you so much’. Being a kid who had been their totally adored grandchild – heck they took me to live with them, gave me everything, I naively expected that love to continue, despite his crimes against me.
Their lawyer was talking to her, I pushed my way between them, and he ran and got the police, but in that time I had already started a fight with my Nan’s sister, only because my Nan asked to hug me and everyone was telling her she wasn’t allowed to. I grabbed my Nan, tears running out of both our eyes, she held me tight and wouldn’t let go. My pop walked out of the court room shaking his head, I just yelled at him, ‘How could you do it, how could you?”. With the sheriff trying to break me and my Nan apart, people on my pops’ side pulling at me, I just waved my fist around with anger hitting at everyone in my way. My pop’s support person was pulling my Nan and me into a little room so we could be alone together. As we reached the door I finally realized something deep inside me, and said to my Nan “You don’t believe me, you’re just like all these others.” I ran out of the courthouse back to my friends who were always by my side.
Whatever happens now, I’ve already won because I walked from the last court day with my Nan in my heart. She’s just a human being – she made her choice, I understand. Just remembering holding my Nan in my arms once again was the greatest thing that I could ever gain from this whole nightmare, even though I had to let her go. She chose him.
Other children who are in the same position really want to think it all through before they make decisions about what they’re going to do. You can’t begin to imagine how the ripples affect everyone or what the system will demand of you, or how people might react. I think that everyone who has been preyed upon in such a way should bring it out now before it’s too late. That way maybe they can remember more of the important things that are needed in court, such as dates, times, clothes worn, places of where it happened, in what way it happened. Not the things that are important to you, the victim.
I want you to know these things. No one else will tell you – it’s all a bit of a secret, really. There are lots of things the jury doesn’t hear at all, and that’s not fair. One day you might be on a jury. It’s just the way it is, because in court they consider these ‘legal’ things to be important – not what fully happened to you. To be believed, you need to know everything, not just bits and pieces – yet they cut out what you know and it gets down to what they are prepared to try to prove.
Perhaps morals need to come back into the law – 800 years without them has produced a system that creates victims. The most important thing is that if you are the victim, don’t believe yourself to be the most important part of the whole thing – you are just a tool, a witness – and pretty much unsupported by the system. You know, and the accused knows what happened, and in the end that’s what really matters.
Even if the jury cannot agree, “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the predator is guilty, it doesn’t mean that he is innocent. You have to tell yourself you did the best you could, then walk away.
I’m going to do everything I can to recover. I’m going to help others as VOCAL has helped me. Thanks for saving me VOCAL and Wayne from JIRT, and thank you Mum, for believing in me.