Her Fight: a battle for justice for her child
TRIGGER WARNING – this post contains details of sexual abuse that some readers may find difficult. A list of support services follows this post.
My daughter was sixteen when she told us that a family friend had sexually abused her when she was just eight years old. My world broke apart. The image I had in my head of the perfect family unit my husband and I had created, was instantly shattered. Everything was tainted by what this predator had done and how oblivious I had been to it.
He was no longer a part of our lives as we’d banished him from our house years earlier after a night when he’d displayed odd behaviour. We didn’t know that he’d already hurt our child the year before that.
From the moment I found out what our daughter had endured, I threw myself into fighting for justice. We reported it to the police and the perpetrator was arrested, released on bail to live in our own community. I avoided his suburb for fear of what I might do if I saw him in public.
I sourced every support service I could find and read endless articles on child abuse, until it haunted my dreams. The child protection unit police officer assigned to our case, became a regular fixture in our home. She went above and beyond to help us through the long and arduous legal process. We were instructed to not talk about the case between ourselves to preserve our testimonies. This added extra stress to an already emotional time, as we couldn’t discuss what we all remembered of the events or even how we felt about it. The shroud of silence we had to keep felt like we were being burdened with shame.
And it was hard to not feel shame. I had prided myself on being a good mother and now I second guessed everything about myself. I poured over photos of my children from that time and tried to find clues in my daughter’s beautiful eyes. I felt that I should have known what had happened. As a victim of sexual abuse myself, I thought I was highly attuned to the clues of suffering. I felt ashamed that my child had been too fearful to tell us what this man had done to her. It wore me down daily.
Through many counselling sessions and lots of reading, I’ve learnt that it is common for the victims of sex offenders to feel a sense of blame. It’s wrong and unfair. 100% of the blame lies with the perpetrator who took advantage of our daughter’s innocence and our blind trust in him.
Eighteen months after reporting our case to the police, we attended a committal hearing so a judge could determine if the evidence was enough to proceed to trial. It was an emotionally gruelling day as the defence lawyer questioned us ruthlessly. Our truth stood the test and the case was passed to the Department of Public Prosecution.
Six more months passed, and we were given two weeks’ notice that the trial would be heard. Family and friends rallied around us as we attended the District Court for the hardest week of our lives. My now eighteen-year-old daughter was grilled by a brutal defence lawyer for hours on end. The tried to paint a truly horrendous image of her to the twelve jurors. Several times she had to take a break and my husband and I were forced to stand back and watch her cry hysterically in the foyer, unable to even hug her as she was still under cross-examination. The only saving grace was that we’d been allowed to have a family friend in the closed court to support our daughter, due to her special witness status. I watched my childhood friend comfort my distraught child through two days of interrogation, and I’ve never been more grateful for a person in my life.
The defence team suggested our family was reckless and immoral. My husband was painted to be a hapless drunk and I was cast as a manipulative shrew. We sat in a room within reaching distance of a man who’d sexually abused our baby. We watched his wife, once my close friend, hold his hand and stoically support him. We were glared at by his sister and brother who tried to intimidate us.
Yet our truth stood up to scrutiny. After a full week of trial, it took just three hours for a jury to unanimously convict him on all charges. We had chosen to stay away from the court for the verdict as we knew none of us would cope if he’d gotten away with his disgusting crimes. When the prosecutor rang to let me know he’d been found guilty, I fell to my knees, crying uncontrollably. We had been warned so many times that these cases were near on impossible to win. The relief was overwhelming.
The next day the feeling turned to euphoria. After two years of living with this legal battle, I felt as though a fifty-kilo weight was lifted from my shoulders. It was like I was viewing the world through a filter – everything was brighter and happier. I couldn’t help but take joy in all the freedom we had, knowing that the perpetrator was being denied all of it. I’m not proud of feeling vengeful, but I understand that it’s part of healing.
As a family, we are grateful in the knowledge that we’d achieved some sense of justice but frustrated by the painful process and the toll it had taken on us all. His sentencing, which was scheduled for the following week, dampened our joy and opened more wounds.
A follow up story on the sentencing can be read here.
If this story has brought up any concerns for you – please reach out to one of the services listed below.
Bravehearts – https://bravehearts.org.au/
The Centre Against Sexual Violence – https://www.casv.org.au/
The Centre for Women and Co – https://centreforwomen.org.au/
1800 RESPECT – https://www.1800respect.org.au
And a comprehensive list of state wide services here: https://wwild.org.au/sexual-assault-services/
Lifeline – 13 11 14
1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732
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