I was abused from the time I was four, when my mother moved in with the man that was going to become my stepfather. I remember the very first day we moved into his home and feeling really uncomfortable when he came into the toilet when I was going to the toilet one time.
When I started school, my mum got a job working night fill at a supermarket, so I would be home alone with my stepfather at night. This was when everything started happening. It was the early 80s, and he would make me watch pornographic movies with him, and he would make me act out what was happening in those movies. I remember when my Mum went to the hospital to give birth to my brother, after my stepfather and I came back from visiting her at the hospital, we came home and he sexually abused me.
Even as a young child I knew that it wasn't right, and I started to internalise it all. Here I was as a little kid, going through all of this yucky crap, and I felt like I had to try and put on a brave face. I would pretend I was happy when I was at school, but I really felt like I didn't have anyone to talk to about it.
I told my mum he was making me watch porn movies and making me touch him, but being young I didn't really have the words to verbalise what he was actually doing. She just told me to just stay in my room and make sure I said no. It shut me down. It really impacted on our relationship, because I felt like I wasn't listened to. If my son had said that to me when he was younger I would have believed him and done something about it, straight away. I wouldn't have just told him to stay in his room. It takes a lot for a seven or eight year old to say something.
I know a lot of my family knew something wasn't right, but no one ever said anything, I was just kind of deemed a problem child. Even my teachers at school thought that too. They wanted me to be drug tested at school because they thought I was taking drugs, which I wasn't at that stage. But not once did anyone ask me if I was ok.
I left home when I was 15, I went to live with a family of a friend I went to school with, then went flatting. When I look back now I think actually, I have done really well considering! I managed to finish school, work part time and pay my own way. I probably abused myself a lot more during those teenage years and even during my 20s. It has always impacted me. I have had some serious issues around trust, and all the rest of it.
The first time I really had the opportunity to do something about dealing with it was when I came back from Australia. I was 19, my great grandmother passed away and I had a drug induced psychotic episode, and started having flashbacks. That is when I started having counselling and beginning that very long healing process. I had been constantly thinking about it in my head, about what had happened and how it wasn't right, and I had a lot of internal anger and pain from it.
I decided to make a statement to the Police, as I found out that my step father was working at a primary school in the South Island, as a caretaker. I decided to call the school and tell them. I also tried to get in contact with the school social worker. After I made my statement, a cop down in Wellington decided to investigate it, and eventually we took it to court. I would have been okay with just doing restorative justice, but of course you need to own up to it, which he wouldn't do. It was an awesome process for me, taking him to court. Even though he was found not guilty due to
insufficient evidence. It was empowering. I thought you can lie all you like, but you know I know what the truth is, and that is all that matters. I didn’t need a judge and jury to tell me that he was guilty. Going through the process was empowering as finally I had the opportunity to talk and be listened to by others and he, my Stepfather had to sit there and hear it too, knowing I was being completely honest.
I have my own son, and I thought to myself there was no way I would be putting him in the same kind of position that I was put in as a child. I made sure he felt like he really could talk to me about anything, and fostered a really strong relationship.
It takes a lot of courage to communicate and speak the truth no matter what. Parents need to listen to their children as early as possible, it builds their assertiveness. I don't think it’s ever too early to start that process. People think it won’t happen to their kids but sexual abuse can happen to anyone. The children need to know that it is safe to speak.
Having my own child is what made me want to get into a career as a social worker as well. I wanted to go and save the world I suppose, but looking back I hadn't finished my own healing. I re-trained to be an Early Childhood Teacher and love it!
It was such an ongoing process of being really self-aware. Triggers aren't necessarily a bad thing, but being aware of them can help you move through and put the ownership of the things that have happened on the perpetrator and not onto yourself.
I embrace my experiences of sexual abuse as a strength now, although it took a while. I feel it has made me a lot more understanding of other people’s experiences too. Everyone has their own story that is valuable and contributes to their own life-long learning journey.