Welcome to Us Project

Amanda

Amanda

 

My name’s Amanda Betts and I'm very happily 49 years old. It’s 2017 as we record this, and I sit here in this amazing space full of colour, vibrancy, creativity, potential, surrender and hope.  Truth is my life wasn't always like that. Colour and vibrancy was one of those weird, seemingly unobtainable things that I had to search for in amongst a whole lot of black.

 

To look at me, I’m ‘normal’. Or maybe I’m abnormal…? I've got a wardrobe loaded with beautiful, cool clothes. I'm a mum to an epic human who takes form as a 19 year-old-guy and I'm a second-time wife to my girlfriend of over 16 years.  Before that I was a wife to a fabulous father to my son that I was with for almost 10 years.

 

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Even my dogs are cool. Monty, the big one, posed with Lorde for Royals. The little one, Sonny, is a French Bulldog that has a tonne of personality. They both come to work with me everyday. And my cat is like a fat furry pear. I love fat cats. 

 

And as for my career? Truly epic. I'm the ex co-founder of Red11 Models, one of the most successful model agencies in New Zealand. I’ve been blessed to build people for a living, a job I’ve done for over 16 years. In 30 years in the fashion industry, I’ve done all sorts of cool jobs, jobs that others would give their eye teeth and left arm for. I’ve travelled extensively, too. And during these travels, I’ve seen amazing things and met some incredible, powerful people. I’ve also met people who have had nothing, and yet have everything. The learnings…ahhhh. So, so blessed. And I’d be a liar if I didn’t tell you how much I have lapped up the perks and amazing things, creativity and people in the fashion industry. To say I’ve had a great time, a great life, is an understatement.

 

 

But this is the thing : I'm a sexual abuse survivor. It's funny saying those words. Not in a funny-ha-ha way. Just like in a weird, quirky way funny. Like... funny in a ‘did that really happen?’ kinda funny. I'm completely comfortable about owning who I am, where I came from, and what's happened to me. I’m in the privileged position of having the freedom to share my story a lot…well, more my ‘stories’, really, because it's not just one story.

 

The sexual abuse survivor part is only a small part of who I am. My introduction into the fashion industry reads like a dream script, a dream we only ever hear about but never happens to us in our wildest dreams.  

 

I got introduced to the fashion industry when I was 17 years old. Introduced…ha! I’ll rephrase that: ‘pushed’…actually, ‘kicked into’. It was my grandmother’s fault. It was 1985, and she gave me a swollen envelope I was excited about because I thought it was loaded with cash. Upon carefully ripping said envelop open, I was surprised to discover a ‘CONGRATULATIONS!’ printed across the top of the carefully folded paperwork. I thought, ‘I dunno of any denomination with a ‘congratulations’ on it….’ It was a modelling course voucher. I was so pissed off, but my Grandmother in her wisdom gave me no choice but to turn up, or I wouldn’t get the clothes to go with the voucher. I decided I’d psych the other girls out. I was going to act real tough and be what I thought was cool.

 

During my course, I accidentally stumbled into landing a TV commercial. I got $5k and I couldn't get over it because I thought, ‘Whoa! I’m ‘worth’ $5K? Must be because I took my clothes off.’ The job was for lingerie, and I had to dance around in my undies like my life depended on it. Irony was that my life did depend on it. I just didn’t realise it. I thought it was a fluke, but then I got the second TV commercial. I thought maybe this isn’t a fluke, maybe I COULD do this. Maybe I could do modelling and maybe I was worth that kind of money.

 

The second job was for L’n’P, a fizzy drink in New Zealand. It was $1500, which at the time, you can imagine was massive for a day's work. Rolling around on the beach on a beautiful day, shaking my hair around in a swimsuit with a hot guy… it was something I was completely comfortable with. I was like, ‘Wow! You’re going to pay me for this? Gimme all the money you want. I’m sweet with this!’

 

I grabbed every opportunity I could working hard to turn them into something, because I never knew when my next opportunity would come. I weaved my way throughout the fashion industry until 1997 when I decided I was going to have a child.

 

When Izaac was born, a whole bunch of stuff deep inside me was also ‘born’, and it woke me up. I thought I knew everything about myself. I thought I knew every inch of my being, that I knew love. I thought I was well acquainted with the darkest shadows of myself. But when I had Izaac, it was kinda like I kind of shut down and an awakening at the same time. This light went on to all the shadow parts of me from the past. All of a sudden everything was polarised and I discovered whole new levels of myself I had no idea existed.

 

It was beautiful and ugly and violent and bliss kind of all at once. While I held this pure, innocent being, this perfect, untarnished perfectly imperfect being in my arms, smothered in ‘stuff’ from my being, I remember looking at him and thinking, ’wow. You know more than me.’ I marvelled at his purity and his power, his newness and old wisdom… I thought about that what I chose to do with him as his mother was going to govern him for the rest of his life. If I loved him, he would learn love. If I was angry at him, he would learn anger.

 

Our children LEARN what we teach them. They can ONLY learn what we, the institutions, education system, friends and family, teach them. They learn by what they see and hear. But mostly,  they learn by what they FEEL. They can't give until they receive. So Izaac was this massive crazy wake up call.

 

It was also the day I decided that certain things, behaviours, mindsets and beliefs had to stop, and something else had to start. So I started the work within me. There was this shift, like this massive dislodging in me and I realised there was so much deeply buried in me that I’d locked up and thrown away the keys to. I believed I would never have reason to open it again. There was a whole lot I had escaped, outrun, dodged, that I’d buried. I knew it was there, but I thought it had dissipated into nothingness.

 

I believed by giving up the drugs when I was 22 would mean I would always remain in control of myself, my mind, thoughts and actions of my heart. Being drug-free would surely ensure I could control what would happen to me.

 

My relationship with my husband started to deteriorate. I was on a journey. My husband was on a journey. We were trying to figure things out with this new baby. I launched myself into motherhood trying to be the best wife I could be. I was always trying to maintain control, because there was suddenly so much outside of my control.

 

Through various circumstances, I had to go back to work. I found a job as a model booker, a job I didn’t even know how to do. It was like a calling that I had no choice but to follow. I often say it’s like asking Picasso not to paint. But that meant I was trying to juggle a marriage, motherhood, my demons and a job I had never done before.

 

I chose to go to psychotherapy, and that was super-hard because I felt like I was paying to clean up messes that other people had made. I was trying to figure it all out all at once and it was just this crazy chaotic time.

 

In my work, in the meantime, I discovered I was really good at building people. Better, I loved it. I loved watching people grow,  helping people tap into their potential and learn things about themselves and what they were capable of achieving they never thought they could do. I became really, really good at building and raising people up.

 

Of course I wanted to control things so that nobody could take things away from me. So, I was the best damn model booker that I could possibly be. I kept grabbing and developing opportunities, going to bigger agencies and more doors kept opening up for me. I was getting models into magazines and on TV commercials and sending people overseas. It was just amazing doing this work.

 

As I was getting higher, my marriage hit rock bottom. My son had just turned two, and I made the brave move to leave my husband. It was really hard. I had this two year old on my hip, I was doing psychotherapy, throwing myself into this new job… It was like I was always busying my mind so I didn't have to deal with all the stuff that kept rearing its ugly head. I was trying to piece myself together, but to piece myself together I had to unravel myself, allow myself to fall apart.

 

In 2003 my grandmother, the one who bought me that modelling course voucher, died. She left all the inheritance to her only son left of her three sons. I realised no one’s going to do this for me. I have to do it for myself. Just because she's my grandmother and she adored me, she didn't owe me anything. But I was still incredibly hurt. I didn’t deserve that.

 

It was the inspiration for me to start my own agency. In 2005, my ex business partners and I started Red11 Models.

 

I worked incredibly hard at it, and I loved it. But the pressures of our own business plummeted me into anxiety and depression, and I got gobbled up by it. I went into an incredibly black place.

 

I managed to get through my anxiety and depression, and we created something I am still incredibly proud of in a platform to grow others and help them unlock their potential. We did things we were told we would never be able to do. I worked my butt off to be arguably the best model booker in the country.

 

In August 2013, something terrible happened within Red11, something that went against everything I stood for. They were heart-wrenching, dark secretive discoveries, discoveries I’m still not at liberty to discuss for various legal reasons. Here I was yet again, silenced, not allowed to discuss anything, express my outrage for what had happened or ask for answers as to why.  I really did try to find ways to keep the business I’d worked so incredibly hard for, had given years of my blood, sweat and tears to. I’d built all these amazing people, and I deserved to reap the rewards of the seeds I’d sewn.

 

It was November 2013 when I was asked to stay for one more week. What was one more week? So I carried out that extra week, with no one within the fashion industry I’d served for almost 30 years knowing I was leaving.

 

My last Friday was December the 6th 2013 (NZ time). As I stood in the lift for the last time, I was flooded with the feelings that yet again, I’d been ripped off from what was rightfully mine.

 

I couldn’t stop crying. The pain was excruciating, a pain I had never felt so deeply in my life. I was crying so hard for so much: for the loss of everything I’d worked so hard for, for my life as I’d known it, for my freedom that would be robbed of me as I searched for a new career, for my innocence in to how I came to leave Red11, for the decisions other people made for their own gratification and greed, for how my life was turned upside down when I didn’t want it to be.

 

I was more broken than I had ever been.

 

The lift dropped me down to the carpark level where the company car I only had three months left to drive before I had to hand it to another staff member, was parked. 

 

I cried for someone else and all he stood for that day, too. December 6th 2013 was also the day Nelson Mandela, one of my greatest inspirations in his rights to freedom despite all he’d endured, died.

 

In the following months, I spent a lot of time in bed, crying, in forests asking nature for the help I so desperately needed. I spent so much time reflecting on my life. I also spent time in recovery for my life. To go forward, I need to take you back to where the story really began…

 

It was in Whakatane, a small town in the north island of New Zealand, in the late ‘70’s, and we were the first kids on the street to get colour TV. It was a really big deal. People would come over to watch our colour TV. This meant our house was very social in the beginning. We were so lucky to have a lot of Maori and Polynesian people in Whakatane, and we loved it because everybody was Uncle Jim and Aunty Sarah, rather than Mr This and Mrs That. We didn't know who was related and who wasn’t. Everybody was kind of part of each other’s family.

 

I'll never forget the first incident. I was eight years old and my mum was out for the night.

She would go to bingo nights. Basil Brush was a really big deal in those days, a character fox from England, a little bit like the Wiggles. All of us kids loved Basil Brush, he was really funny.

 

I was proud to be the lucky owner of pair of purple Basil Brush undies.

 

My six year old brother  and I had been out with my mum’s partner. I don't know to remember if he was drunk or whatever, because he did drink a lot. We came home and mum’s partner put us into the bath. My brother was put to bed before me and he was really grumpy because we always used to be put to bed at the same time. This particular time, mum’s partner said, “Your brother can go to bed now, you’re two years older so you can stay up with daddy.”

 

I was super-excited. I thought it was really funny because I felt like a big girl. As he, we’ll just call him John, was drying me off, he goes “What's that mark?” I said, “What mark?” He was pointing at my chest. He then ran his finger down across my chest. I remember all my hair standing up on end and I got this really horrible cold shiver. I started to shake. I didn't know then, but I do now, he was watching my body respond to his touch. And it was horrible, so creepy, it made my skin crawl. He really ‘dried’ me between my legs. I hated the feeling.

 

 

I got dressed. John and me watched television. I was sitting on John’s lap in his big Lazy-Boy chair watching TV. He lifted me up under my arms, got up and put me back down to his Lazy -Boy. I felt small being engulfed in his huge chair.

 

He got down on his knees and said, “I'm going to do something to you.” He gently ran his hands up my thighs, pulled down my Pyjama pants, got my knickers and rolled them down my legs. He parted my knees. He was a ‘70’s man so he had a big beard and moustache. He started kissing and licking my thighs. I was just watching television over his shoulder and kind of trying to pretend that it wasn’t really happening. I was wondering what he was doing. He went down on me and he said,“Do you like that?”

 

It was a horrible, creepy feeling. I guess when it’s happening to you, you don't think about resisting because there's so much going through your mind about what's going on. Your body is kind of responding when you don't want to. It is another kind of creepiness. He was just feeling me up, performing cunnilingus on me and I didn't like it, I hated it…his scratchy beard on my thighs…it was disgusting.

 

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He said, “Would you like to come into the same bed that mummy comes into?” “No.” “Come on you like this…don't you want to be my little girl?” I remember I made him really angry, so he gave up. Then he snatched at my undies and abruptly put them on. The weirdest thing is I remember him putting my undies on inside-out. So Basil Brush was on the inside. I was really upset about that.

 

It was the start of me becoming a master of keeping secrets. He was hitting mum and the beatings started getting worse. My mum figured out that if she slept with me, he wouldn't beat her. I’m sure he didn’t hit me in case I said something to mum. And it just got worse until eventually, mum got him really drunk one New Year's Eve. He was passed out and all I remember was mum whispering to us we were going to live somewhere else. We loaded up the car with everything we could fit and fled to Auckland. When I think back, I realise how much courage it must have taken her to leave.

 

She had no idea about what was going on with me. I got used to keeping secrets. I kept my mouth shut. There was so much guilt and shame and disgust, I thought I'm not going to tell a soul. And I didn't. I became a master at keeping secrets in pretending everything was OK. I guess there was so much going on in mum's life, she wasn't able to pick up on any signals.

 

Auckland was a fresh start. Well, so I thought. There were a few boyfriends my mother started having because she was a single mum again. Life was hard. Fortunately she had her sister who was very young herself, she was only seven years older than me. She was looking after us and sort of establishing her life as well. Thank goodness for her because she was absolutely wonderful and she loved us and thought we were really cool. But she was a teenager herself looking after us, you know? She was 17, I was 10 and my brother was 8 and that's pretty crazy. She was just like so amazing for us to have because my mum was a hard person…cruel. All she knew was cruelty.

 

Then this guy came along. I can't mention his name. It amazes me, incenses me, even, that I'm not allowed to mention his name in case he comes after me. So we'll just call him John, too. John came into our lives and we were so happy. He used to take us places. This was so special because mum had gone into secrecy, so we weren't allowed to play with other kids, use the phone, answer the phone, connect with our grandparents…she kept us isolated. I don't know why, she's dead now so I can't tell you. We didn't have many relationships and our family didn't visit us very much.

 

Eventually John moved in. One day we were watching television. And again there were things that were starting to happen. You pretend you don't really see or notice them. I guess I know it was a part of me wanting to block out that same feeling, because even though it was a different man, the feeling is the same. It’s the same creepiness. It’s quite a strange thing because you start to become alert to these feelings. You feel that same something is not quite right. Your mind plays tricks on you. You think it can’t be real, it can’t be happening again. You start justifying their actions in your mind. What you don't realise when you're so young and innocent is that you sometimes start sending out certain signals. So these feelings started happening again. I couldn’t believe it.

 

What was so bad this time is not as much the incident, and ‘incident’ feels too-small-a word for what happened, was that my heart, more than anything, hurt so much.

 

I was hugging him tightly, wrapped up in his arms, on the couch. My brother was lying on the ground in front of us watching TV. I was so happy; we've got this great guy, he's not violent or beating the crap out of my mother or us. He's not swearing and carrying on, or getting drunk. Mum had found happiness at long last with this great guy who loved her and was kind to us. And he bought us ice creams…a lot. We were in heaven.

 

As I'm hugging him, he starts adjusting his body position. So my head starts dropping down his stomach. He got an erection. He was huge, absolutely massive in size, and it was up to his stomach.

 

He unbuttons his pants and his penis springs out, like it’s unleashed from the tightness of his pants. He takes a hold of it, and feeds it into my mouth….I am so devastated, tears filling my eyes. I just looked at him to say, how could you…? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME? How could this happen to me again?

 

The worst part for me is that I found myself responding…not in an excited way, but like that's what I needed to do to help keep him in our family. Because I didn't want to be broken apart again, for mum to suffer again, for us to have to pack up again.

 

I left the room to the safety of my bedroom.

 

I didn't go through this on my own. He’d masturbate in front of me and my brother all the time. I was having breakfast one day, and he said, 'I wanna slide my cock up and down your tits.” I simply said, "If the boys at school can't have them, you definitely can't."

 

Mum started knowing things were going on. She sort of sensed it.

 

We all have intuition. Some of us are tuned into it a little more than others. Mum started getting angrier and angrier at me as I grew taller and I guess more beautiful. I was no longer the little girl, I was starting to become a young woman. But I also started becoming hardened. And I also started to become super-sexualised. Men would hit on me because I looked older than what I was. At 14, I started realising the power of my body.

 

I launched myself into schoolwork, sports and into creative activities. I was a really good girl at school. But I was covering so many massive lies. I didn't want anyone to find out how dirty or damaged I was. By that stage my mum was trying to stop my growth so she would dress me in ugly clothes, She wouldn't let me do any personal grooming. I wasn’t allowed to go out, to use the telephone or have friends over. We had no privacy. We weren't allowed to close our doors at night time, doors were always open.

 

And she used to beat the hell out of us with the jug cord. She was super-violent. Although John never smacked us, he’d often come in and watch while we were bent over the bed, mum strapping us with the jug cord. Sometimes we wouldn't go to school for a couple of days because the welts would be so bad. We became more and more isolated.

 

During this time there were other things going on with other people in the neighbourhood that I couldn’t really discuss. One reason being I would rather take it on myself like a sacrificial lamb rather than set the cat amongst the pigeons in other peoples families. There were all of these incidents regularly happening to me and I couldn't share it with anybody.

 

For example, when I was maybe 14 or 15, I can't remember exactly how old, there was one guy in his 50’s that used to live in a self-contained flat with people my mum trusted along the road. On the odd occasion, we’d stay with these people. I think I used to stink of a victim. He too cottoned on to something about me. I guess I was always being groomed and I never knew I was being groomed. This guy earned my trust. He knew a lot of shit was going on for me, promising he would never tell anybody. He’d say things like "What do you do when you get in these really dark places? It must be really terrible for you".

 

At the time Devo was my favourite band. I told him listening to them saved me. So he started buying mr Devo records. One day I was at his house and he goes "Guess what? Devo just released a new album." I was so excited. We listened to the album. I was just beside myself. Of course I knew that I couldn't have the album unless I went to his flat. I’d sneak over and listen with him, we’d talk, I’d get a fix, I was happy.

 

It was one of the best days of my life when mum got a new record player, so I got the old one. It was a really big deal because we weren't allowed anything.

 

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I raced over to this guy’s flat with my exciting news. After listening to the album, he said, "Do you want to keep the album?"

 

Of course I was beside myself: a record player AND the Devo album?!

 

Of course I said yes. He continued. "If you want it, I'll do things to you. You don't have to do anything to me..." I was thinking this is actually an ok deal, because I didn’t have to do anything. To be honest, I didn't give a fuck. So I just let him do what he wanted.

 

He got what he wanted. I got my album.

 

He was smart and started buying singles. But again I didn't care. In my head I was ok with it because he wasn't having sex with me and I didn't have to suck him off.

 

I've never discussed that with people. Not because I struggle with it. I just didn’t want people to see me as a person that could do that. Even though I was OK with it. So much had happened by that stage, I was so damaged that it didn't matter to me.

 

I remember he bought a second album. I got smart with him and said that unless he gave me a full album, I was going to start telling others. So of course I got my album and then that stopped. He never came back after me again. Because I realised I had a bit more power than what I thought. It was so weird because on one hand I was powerless. But I had also started learning how to use the power as a weapon in a threatening kind of way.

 

I remember one time I was at school and something was wrong with me. Not that I knew because I would just go to school to do my schoolwork and pretty much kept to myself. I didn't have friends because I couldn't foster relationships with them. One day I was called to the office to see the counsellor. I don't remember exactly the conversation, but I thought I didn’t say much.

 

Later that day, Mum came home and said, "How was your day?"

I replied "Good, thanks."

"Talk to anyone interesting today?"

I gave birth to my heart. I thought, ‘Oh fuck, she knows.’ I could feel my face burning. “No,” I said not very convincingly.

"You sure about that?"

“Yes, I'm sure."

"Are you SURE you’re sure about that?”

I stared at the floor hoping it would open up and swallow me whole….

“Go into your room and I’ll give you some time to see if you're sure about that…"

I knew what it meant. I just thought, ’Fuck that. I'm not doing the torture in the room’. So I said,"OK, yes I did speak to somebody."

 

Eventually, she came in with the jug cord. "You're not ever to speak to anybody about anything that goes on inside of this house." I got on my knees and took my punishment. I decided never to speak to anybody again.

 

Before my dad died he wanted to see us. He wasn't allowed to see us because we were used as weapons against my dad. I know we were used as weapons because we never got to see him. He snuck in one day to school. I don't remember exactly how old I was. I was sweeping the floor and all of a sudden, I looked out the window and I saw this man. I knew he was my father, because parts of me looked like parts of him. He was the reason I was tall with green eyes and brown hair, not short with black hair and brown-black eyes like my Dutch-Indonesian mother. I ran and stood in front of him, I studying his face so closely.

"Are you who I really think you are? Are you my dad?" He hugged me so tight and I just cried and cried in his arms.

 

I was a little girl when I last saw him, and here I was, this young woman. He hadn't seen us for years. But after all that time, I still held a torch my dad.

 

We were in the car and he put his hand on my leg and squeezed it gently, tears welling up in his eyes. All he wanted to do was connect. He was staring at me like he was trying to apologise. He was trying to say so much without saying a word.

 

It still hurts my heart when at one stage, I looked at him and just thought, ‘Oh god. Not you too…’ I remember thinking he wanted to do things to me too. It was so sad. My dad didn't feel like that about me at all but I misconstrued it and it felt like that same dirty feeling. When I look back on it, I know he was trying to say sorry. I know he was trying to say he loved me. He was trying to make up for all of those years in this really short awkward meeting, and yeah, it was a really bizarre feeling.

 

Later that day, mum came home and said,"Did you see anyone interesting today?" Fuck. Here we go again. And sure enough, we got beaten.

 

My dad died when he was 35, of Leukaemia. I was 15, and my brother 13. We weren’t allowed to cry, attend his funeral and our names aren’t on his gravestone as if we never existed. But his ex wife is. He was meant to change his assets over to my brother and me. The lawyers got the paperwork ready, and dad instructed them to leave it beside his bed, that he would sign it tomorrow. His never tomorrow came, yet it changed all of our tomorrows.

 

There were many other incidents that led up to me leaving home, but two were the nails in the coffin. One day I left my bedroom window open and someone stole my mum's clothes and jewellery. When she came home she asked if I’d committed the robbery. Of course it wasn’t me. So I said no. She slapped me so hard on my face. It fucking burned. I hate being slapped in the face. My mum slapped me on the same side of my face seven times. My face was on fire. I asked her what she wanted me to say to stop her. She told me to admit I did it. So I admitted I did it, even though I had nothing to do with it other than being supid enough to leave the widow open. She beat me the jug cord.

 

She used to make me look at her, which I hated. She had a black heart and a black soul. There was no love in her. There was no compassion, no kindness, no understanding, no forgiveness. She’d sculpted us to be so fucking subservient who weren’t ever allowed to answer back or stand up for ourselves. She’s say anything she wanted. And my God did she.

 

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She’d say, ‘Kids are like dogs: no matter how badly you treat them, they always come back to you.” It was true no matter how bad she treated us we always came back to her. We always loved her.

 

John went to hit her one day. He didn’t beat her very often, but this one particular day, he went to hit her. I stood in front of her, looked at him and I didn't say a word. I just stared at him. He was really, really angry. I just said,”If you touch her…" He stormed out. I was really proud of myself because I'd stopped a beating.

 

It's funny because I've never actually thought about this. It's only because I’m thinking about it now. Again, that incident was another time when I sort of lost power, but gained power at the same time. Maybe that's partly why he never touched her. Because I held the secrets. I never said a word and neither did my brother. There was a real beautiful thing that happened from the ugliness of all the stuff, and that was my relationship with my brother. We became really close and that was something I was really grateful for, even though it was so fucked up as to how we became so close.

 

I have a freedom of choice tattoo. It’s a wing. The freedom of choice wing represents the last time my mother lay her hands on me. That was the final ‘incident’ (damn, I hate the pathetic-ness of that word. And I don’t hate much….) before I left home. ‘Freedom of Choice’ is a song by Devo. The first verse is

a victim of collision in the open sea

No one ever said that life is free

Sink. Swim. Go down with the ship

Use your freedom of choice.

 

I remember my freedom of choice that day…that horrific, sad day. It's funny because this abuse was the worst kind of abuse.

 

I had a guy in the house while my mum and John were out. We're mucking around and mum unexpectedly came home. Fuck. So he raced out the back door as mum walked in the front door. I sat there all hot, bothered and flustered. Mum came in and clocked me. Her eyes went big as saucers, then they narrowed to thin slits, her hands clenching into tight fists. She charged over to me, grabbed me by the ear and twisted it so hard dragging me into the bathroom. She started smashing my face against the mirror, screaming “Look at you look at you, filthy fucking bitch.” She was calling me a slut and a whore…all these things.

 

I was still a virgin. You know I find it quite ironic considering all that happened to me, that I was still a virgin, only dirtied by her boyfriends.

 

I start begging.

 

 

“Please, please mum, I'll do anything. I’m sorry! I'm sorry!” I was crying and just pulling every trick to try and get her to stop. Finally I got myself a bit of space. It's funny because that moment of space has been something that has served me for the rest of my life in the sense if you are so close up against it in what’s happening to the point you cannot see anything,  it’s amazing what happens when you create room for a little bit of space.

 

She sent me to my room and I waited. And waited… It was one of mum’s torture techniques. You know you’re going to get it, but it's that sick feeling of not knowing when it’s coming.

 

Mum walked in a few hours later. I was sitting on my bed. She goes, "You know what to do." I got down on my knees and I bent over my bed.

“Actually, get up."

 

I thought, ‘this is different. Maybe she won’t beat me…’

 

 “Look at me,” she says a little too calmly. That's the worst: when you look your perpetrator in the eye. It’s like they are reading you, slicing right through your best defences. You're forced to look into their eyes while they violate your soul. I remember thinking what black holes of darkness her eyes were.

 

“Get it off.”

"I cant its a hickey."

"That's not what I'm talking about."

"You want me to get undressed?"

“Yes, Get it off."

 

I took of my pyjamas and stood in my underwear. She said, "Get it ALL off." I just said "But mum…” tears are now filling my eyes. So I really awkwardly undo my bra and I took off my underwear. At my socks, she says, “That’ll do.”

"Get down." So I got down on my knees. I was still holding on to the hope that she would change her mind.

 

And then she started. And she went to town.

 

I had already made a choice: Freedom of choice. I decided that I wasn't going to make a sound. And I didn't. I just thought: you can do what you like with my mind, you can do what you like with my body, but you ain't going to touch my soul. So I did not cry. It was really painful.

 

Even though I thought I knew everything, even though I was fucking tough, even though all the stuff had been happening to me, I was still just a girl. And the hardest part was that my own mother could do this to me…If she had any idea of what I was putting up with so I could protect her, so that she didn't have to feel like it was her fault. I was the sacrificial lamb. I was taking all this from her men. That was the hardest, hardest part about the whole thing.

 

I was so fucking terrified because I thought if she was going to do this to me for a hickey, what would she do to me if I told her the truth about what all these men have been doing. So I just silently took it.

 

When she finished, she was puffing. I quietly put on my clothes. My ass was on fire. It was then I said the three most powerful words I've ever said. To me this is a really important part of the story and it's something that I think is so incredibly powerful because it was the day I got my power back. For the first time in my life, I felt that I had real power. I never, ever felt that power before. Because power is not about just what you say, and it's not about what you don't say. It's not about what you do. It is just as much about what you don't do. It's also about how you say it and how you deliver it.

 

I don't know where it came from, but it was one of the most memorable highlights of my life. That is so incredible because I was so broken and so damaged and so dark and I just really found this voice. I found this glimmer of light and strength in me.

 

She watched me as I put my clothes back on. I went straight up to her, stood over her, which I had never done in my entire life. She was breathing deeply. I looked down at her black holes of eyes. I gritted my teeth, I narrowed my eyes. And I just said in a strong but quiet voice through gritted teeth, ‘HAVE…YOU…FINISSSSSHED?

 

I'll never forget it because it was like it wasn't me. It was like it was my soul speaking, and it was the most beautiful powerful moment of my entire life. And it remains so. My mum looked at me and a light went out in me. She lost me in that moment, and she never got me back again.

 

Two weeks later I packed what little I had, going into the world like a tiger out of the cage at 15 years old. After that I did everything I wanted and everything I shouldn’t have done. I pillaged, stole, hustled all sorts of things from all sorts of people. I just took what I wanted, what I felt I was entitled to. I didn't give a shit. I tried to commit suicide a couple of times, the second time was 22 valium.

 

So my grandmother gifting me that modelling course voucher, changed my life. It saved me, even. And through me taking every opportunity and turning it into something that could help me get ahead and make up for what I’d been so robbed of, I am what can be defined as a real ‘Success Story’.

 

As a top body model in my time, I always found it ironic that the fashion industry ended being my saviour, something that valued what I had to offer.

 

And while as a model agent, I used to help beauty-privileged people become more privileged, when I left Red11, or had little choice but to go, really, I wanted to find ways to help more people like me. I wanted to give voices and faces to those who suffer in silence. I wanted to give validation for those so robbed of their innocence, and I wanted to demonstrate through example that we do not need to remain victims, but rather we can chose to find ways to be not only survivors of sexual assault, but conquerors of it. And I wanted to find ways to help others in their journey to healing, too.

 

I do this through the Heartspeak Collective, a fundraising initiative where people share their stories through up-cycling and customising jackets, tea towels and cushions, and Bridge The Gap Project, a charitable trust that helps youth help themselves through creative, healing experiential learning programmes. I now work with some of the most at-risk and vulnerable young people in the country, including incarcerated young people.

 

The truth is none of what I am doing now would have happened if it weren’t for my harrowing childhood experiences.  So my experiences have enabled me to find my purpose. And that is a precious gift, a privilege, not a birthright.  

 

While we can never take back what people choose to do to others, we can choose to ensure no one…no one, breaks our spirit.

 

 

Amberleigh

Amberleigh

Rachael

Rachael