Nadia, now 17, was sexually abused by her brother from the age of 8 to 10 years. Nadia first disclosed in 2014 to her mother and what ensued was a lengthy process.
Nadia initially experienced the traditional centralised system response and has then been engaged with the Multiagency Investigation and Support Team (MIST). MIST is the community based integrated service response provided at the George Jones Child Advocacy Centre in Armadale. There she has had ongoing supports and involvement with the detective investigating her case and a Child and Family Advocate.
The following is Nadia’s story. Her reflections of the journey she has taken, the systems she has endured and the suggestions she gives for future system structures. Nadia also shares her private struggle with managing the impacts of her abuse.
At the age of 16 years I finally pressed charges after hiding it for almost 8 years. In the last thread of confidence I had I described in agonizing detail my abuse. It hit me like a physical blow. Although I had suppressed these images as best as I could for as long as I can remember, an image of his face flooded my mind. I could visualise every inch of his face in great detail. As the flood gate opened my mental health declined. I turned to opiates, self-harming, and drugs.
What happens when the ones who are supposed to love you threaten your very own life? When someone destroys your understanding of yourself, you don’t hurt anymore, you don’t feel. I can go days with not feeling and not caring but it always comes back, deeper and deeper.
I remember the day of my interview, the locked doors, security and I thought ‘oh this is fun’. It was all clean and tidy and neat; it was so quiet. It was like walking into a prison, but I wasn’t. It felt like ‘ok, there’s one reason you are here and one reason only. So say what you have to say and then go home’. It was quite daunting. When I went into the room with all the cameras and the microphones, I didn’t know what to say, what to do. At first I was told that I didn’t give enough detail that I had to explain it more. It was really graphic. For so many years I had told myself not to explain it in any detail, so that was hard. I remember picking the skin on my hands the entire time. They gave me breaks which were good so I didn’t have to get it all out at once but the breaks were also bad because then I had to sit there and think ‘am I doing the right thing’. There’s a lot of guilt and you don’t know why there’s guilt, there just is.
Sometimes I didn’t know who I was talking to, and I had never met the lady before that was asking the questions. It was just ‘ok she’s going to ask you questions and you’re going to have to tell her in explicit detail what happened to you’.
"Sometimes I feel as if I couldn’t be found. I felt unwanted, unheard, and unseen."
After the interview I went home, and then I had to just wait and wait and wait. I felt like I was just left, I wasn’t really informed of what was going on which was complicated by my brother having moved away. I felt like it wasn’t about me anymore it was more about the offender than making sure the person who was going through it was ok and making sure they were up to date with everything.
The lady that did my interview, I saw her that day and then I never saw her again and then all of a sudden someone else was doing my case and I didn’t know who she was and there was no face to a name and it was just a voice over the phone. I felt like why did I tell that person if I would never see that person again, why didn’t I tell the person that’s actually running my case and going and doing everything, why did I tell a complete random person because it felt like she was just a random person who was just there to take my statement and disappear.
I met with lots of people through the process over the years and had to tell my story each time, they would ask me to explain to them why I was there, what had happened and who I was.
Although things didn’t start so well in the process for me, when it came time for court I felt really supported. The lady from Child Witness Service was really good, she sat in the room with me on the day. She sat on one side and my Detective sat on the other which was really good. I think that was best and it helped a lot, knowing that I had someone on either side of me that could support me through it. By facing him, by me standing up in court I have stopped someone else from having to feel or experience the trauma I have to live with.
My Detective was really good, even though she was meant to just be the Detective in the thing she was very much more like a mother figure when my own mother figure wasn’t there she was making sure I’m ok and ringing me to make sure everything was alright. That was the biggest support for me.
By then I had those people that I knew I could go to, some friends that knew what was going on and then Parkerville was good because there was actually people that you know would sit down and talk to me or on a day that things aren’t going so well I can just ring them, when I need to talk about something, or I need to get this out and I think that was a big help as well.
"I felt for once that they were all actually listening to me before they were listening to anyone else."
Now, I mostly try not to think about what happened, I try to survive and hope that the sadness will pass. My brother got to walk away I didn’t. No matter what I say to him, no matter the words I share, he will never understand what he has done. He will never feel the things I have felt. He gets to walk away after a while; I have to live with a life sentence.
I have been mad a lot in my life. I have made decisions because I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t fully understand what he did to me, I was questioning myself for so long, it wasn’t until I was around the age of 11 years that I began to comprehend everything. I felt disgusting; my body didn’t feel like my own, I learnt not to trust and to always keep my guard up.
Growing up in a body that felt disgusting, I’d shower with the lights off and the mirror covered because every time I saw my body all I saw was him. Even though it was so long ago now, some days I still can’t bear to see myself or even touch my own skin. Then there’s the days were my skin feels like it’s covered in ants and I can’t seem to get them off. I feel as though he took my body from me for his own private pleasure, and I can’t seem to get it back.
Sleeping became near to impossible, either I got to sleep and I’d wake up with cold sweat dripping down my forehead shaking uncontrollably. I would sob quietly to myself so I didn’t wake anyone else up in the house. I had nightmares about the abuse as well. There he was in my dreams, touching me and I couldn’t stop him. Getting through a school day with no sleep was incredibly difficult, I barely passed all my classes and if I did I was just scrapping through. I put a smile on my face every day at school, thinking that if I just kept smiling no one would ask questions and maybe I could get through the day without him in my head.
I was so scared by him that I conformed to what he wanted. I used to tell myself that if I was older and understood more perhaps further abuse would not have occurred in my life. I remember telling mum for the first time. She didn’t want to believe me, she always swore that she wouldn’t let anyone hurt her children the way she had been hurt. I felt guilty for telling her because he was her child too, but he made his choice. He hurt more than just me.
The physical hurt is there but it doesn’t compare to the emotional side of things, I have looked upon sex as a disease some days. I was never informed that the next time I was to commit to having sex with someone I loved, someone who cared about me I would slip from the sheets while they slept and cry till I couldn’t anymore; that I would then get back into bed and feel like I don’t deserve the love they give. He destroyed my worth.
I have been as independent as possible in my life as it’s the only way I feel as if I have control, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that I can lean on others if I need to. Yet I now find myself struggling again as I have moved out of my comfort zone and no matter where I go I still have the emotional baggage that I will carry for the rest of my life.
I have reached the point in life were I’ve realized how much my past affects my present and future. Child sexual abuse was not something I asked for, but I have given up asking why me. He took what he wanted when he wanted it, never once thinking of the pain he could have caused. How is it fair that I didn’t get a choice in who touched me and how they touched me? No it isn’t fair and he took that away from me before I even understood what he was doing.
It shaped me into something I can’t put into words. I feared rejection, feared not being loved, and I feared being looked at like I was just a ‘’victim’’. I don’t know who I’d be or where I’d be if I were never abused and I’ll never know. What I do know is that he turned me into a timid hollow shell that questioned every thought and action; my sense of self-worth was gone. I was terrified to tell anyone that it was my brother who molested me; I was ashamed maybe if he weren’t related to me it would be easier to process. I have realised that there shouldn’t be reason for me to be ashamed; he made the decision to take my innocence from me. He made his decision and it is he who has to live with the repercussions, not me.
I began to feel like I was alone, even when there were so many people around me. I started feeling like a failure; I started believing I wasn’t good enough. I believed I had too much baggage that if I was to tell anyone they would cut ties with me. I thought that you can’t be loved when you have been broken. Eventually I succumbed to self-harm, it was my way out if I was in pain, and it would take the pain away, even if just for a moment, for however long. I didn’t care about how people would react to seeing the cuts or burns on my skin; it was my way of getting images out of my head, a way of coping, a terrible way of coping.
Over the past 5 years I have had to swallow so many pills to help with my feelings of depression, anxiety and mood swings. I need help getting to sleep and to manage my post-traumatic stress symptoms. I have had people scoff over the pills I am taking or laugh at the way I react to being touched on a place as simple as the arm. I tried, I really tried, but you can only pretend everything is all right for so long before you can’t hold onto ‘’it’s going to get better”.
I had my first panic attack when I was 13 years of age, I felt like I was dying physically and mentally. I felt like I was trapped inside myself yet I felt like I was looking at myself from the outside. I had no control over what happened in my life, I had no control over what was happening after. I remember once when someone accidently brushed up against me in the shops, I ran into the bathroom, fumbled to close the door to the toilet and sobbed into my hands for an hour until I could stand up and walk out.
He made me feel as if it didn’t matter if I was to take my own life or to disappear, that I was just an object for him to use then throw away when he was finished. I feel I’ve never deserved to be loved or to love another
I have taken it upon myself to look at him now as ‘my abuser’, not my brother, he destroyed that right the moment he laid his hands on me with bad intentions. He hurt me, hurt me in ways that are near to impossible to explain, he abused the power he had in so many ways by the decisions he made.
I now have the courage to put the words to what he did. My brother sexually abused me. For many years I lived with the thought that suicide would be a great comfort. I hurt myself and so many others because of the anger I gained due to the abuse. I suffered and still suffer from depression that has led me on more than one occasion to attempt to end my own life.
While he is left to make a new life, I struggle with trying to keep the only life I have. Even when times seem to be going good there’s always something that triggers a flashback, bringing all the fear I try to suppress back to the surface. He took away my childhood, he took my teens and he is still taking my adulthood. He has left me with nothing but fear, confusion and terrible anger. To this day I’m still learning and struggling to understand what a healthy relationship is and if I’ll ever be able to tell a ‘good man’ apart from someone like him.
"It doesn’t just go away because he went away, it stays in every aspect of my life. I’d give so much to forget what he did but I can’t, and even though I don’t remember everything in detail, little flashbacks have a way of just sneaking up on you like a shutter of a camera. Flashbacks are like being thrown into a tornado, they just pick you up and spin you around and you relive it like it was yesterday."
Nadia has provided us with some reflections of her experience and what she thinks make a supportive system for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse.
I think the less faces a child has to go through or talk to would be a lot easier. Having that one person rather than a few people that they can go to, one person is so much easier.
Meeting with the interviewer beforehand in a friendly environment; this would be easier rather than just going straight into it. It would be good to have that connection before you go into an enclosed room with all the locked doors with all the security and share your story.
I think as soon as a child has made a statement or come forward about their abuse, there should be that support straight away. Whereas there was nothing at all until the court dates were actually set for me. I had no support for about nearly a year waiting for him to be extradited. It was more just a waiting game.
People need to make sure that the child or young person’s family is supportive, because there’s a difference between seeing the parents supportive and you don’t know what’s going on in the household so bringing it up with the child, asking the child how things are at home, telling them what they feel is going on is ok. When it comes to having somebody in the family who is the offender some people will still feel like the child is lying or the child just wants attention. If the child is told that they can come and tell somebody that something at home isn’t going right then it will be a lot easier for the child to know that they aren’t in the wrong coming forward.
The building should be friendlier, with pictures or drawings, cushions and toys. Obviously I understand the security procedures and that’s entirely understandable but when you walk in its just quiet, no noise, no nothing, maybe a little bit of music or something so the kids aren’t just walking in to a quiet room. People need to be calm and relaxed. Maybe offer them food or Lego or drinks or something to keep them occupied. Even like a toy or something they can fiddle with while they are telling their story, maybe like a stress ball. Smiles on faces too. When I went to my interview I felt it wasn’t very friendly. I thought ‘oh am I even supposed to be here? And am I doing the right thing?’.
Regular updates for the person so they know what’s going on, so they are up to date with everything and people know how they are going. Even if nothing has changed they should still be informed of what’s going on and if it’s a young child they should still be informed that what they are doing is the right thing because if you leave a young child and they know that they have gone forward about this and then there’s nothing for such a long period of time they may doubt what they did was the right thing. They should be encouraged that what they did was the right thing, that telling somebody is good.
Talking to all these people was difficult too, sharing my story again and again. There wasn’t the joined knowledge between everyone. If everyone was more connected on what was going on and you knew who they were at the beginning it probably would have been a lot easier. I think now they are working closer together (under MIST) than they were at the beginning there is a lot more communication going on. They need to communicate rather than a child having to tell a person every time they meet a new person. The person should already know what’s going on, why should the child have to explain themselves? Explaining it once is hard enough but having to explain it to so many people over and over again is even harder. Walking into a room and you know someone you haven’t met knows your name and knows a little bit about why you are here and what you are going through would be so much easier.
My experience was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle trying to figure out who was who. When and what role did they have and where did they come from and it was a bit muddled, I didn’t know who I was talking to at times and who was doing what at times. Having that made clear at the beginning rather than ‘ok this is another person, this is another person they are going to help you with this’. Having everyone at the beginning rather than having people pop up every now and then through the case over the time that it was going on. This would have been easier for me to know who to go to with whatever situation that’s happening.