'Brenda' tells her story of the childhood sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father.
'Brenda' tells her story of the childhood sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. Caitlan Charles

Abuse survivor's plea: 'Listen to the children'

FOR 50 years, Brenda* has kept a secret. Not out of shame, instead out of the understanding that most people cannot comprehend what happened to her.

The memories she has tried hard to suppress in order to lead a normal life start in her safety cot, when she was two or three.

These memories are of her father abusing her.

Brenda was 10 years old when she told her mother her father had abused her. She was met with disbelief, until she went into detail of the horrors she'd experienced.

This is when her mother took Brenda and her siblings into hiding.

They were hiding from a man who was an alcoholic who abused Brenda's mother and a pedophile who abused Brenda and her sister.

Apart from telling her mother, and a burly police officer who Brenda described as intimidating and unhelpful, she only told her story once more before she saw a clinical psychologist when she was 50.

This came after children started noticing her "spacing out" and showing signs of depression, which was Brenda reliving the ordeal she experienced as a young child.

"It's too horrific to just sit down and have a conversation (about it) over coffee," she said.

But that one experience with a doctor in her teens meant Brenda spent much of her life dealing with the ordeal on her own and coping with it the only way she knew how - by internalising everything.

"I was going through my final year at high school and I was struggling a little, so I went to the doctor - it was some old quack - and his response to me was: 'Well love, don't you know in some countries that's just the norm. So how many milligrams of Valium do you want?'

"That was my one and only encounter with a professional. It took me 30-odd years later to have the confidence to go back."

Growing up, Brenda said sometimes she got the opportunity to live a 'normal life' at home, but sometimes, it was the complete opposite.

"I was treated OK, but when Mum went to work or the opportunity struck, then that's when bad things happened," she said.

"He didn't always walk in the door and start bashing us, there was an opportunity to have some sort of normality - until there wasn't.

"I will always blame my father for the demise of my mother, the trauma she suffered, the life that came back to bite her.

"It's something that is a nightmare. You're a young child, you go to bed and you have your nightgown and your panties on, and when you wake up in the morning and you don't have your panties anymore."

Brenda said one of the most difficult things was having her mother question her story.

"That crushed me. That was really hard for me that my mum would even doubt me, until I started to go into detail and describe things," she said.

"He's a violent man and she knew he was having affairs and things like that, but as far as her children and the stories I was telling, that was something that was very difficult for her because she took on the guilt.

"I look back now and I think, 'yeah Mum, the signs were all there' ... but she was going through her own hell.

"While I acknowledge these things now, I could never hold her accountable because of the love that she gave.

"When I look back on my childhood, I know that I had that (horrible) side of it, but I also had my beautiful, loving mother and some people don't even have that benefit."

Brenda said after her father spent time in prison, her mother divorced him, but when he was released he was given access to the children again.

The people around her said he seemed like a good bloke, so surely Brenda and her siblings would be fine.

"Fifty years and that attitude hasn't changed," she said. "Do they not understand that these are human beings, are they not their equal? This is what I don't understand - we are seeing these children, our society recognises these children as second rate.

"Why can't a child stand up and say, 'I don't want to be with my daddy, he hurts me'? Why are they not being listened to?

"A child can't describe the acts that occur to them in detail and it be tarnished off to say, 'Oh yeah, the mother was coaching them.' How can you coach a child to describe what you had to describe?"

The shock of Brenda's story and others like it, she believes, should not shy people away from the truth: there is a real issue and the people who try to protect children who have been abused should be protected, not vilified.

"I never got, as an adult, to confront my father and say, 'You mongrel, what you did to me is unacceptable. I will never forgive you, I will never say I love you.' How could you love an animal like that? There needs to be a distinction drawn.

"I have a half-brother, I have lots of illegitimate brothers and sisters out there. I was raised knowing that if I was going to get married, I had to get our blood tested because I could be marrying my sibling.

"I know of one of them he would bring to the home, the woman was disabled ... The shocking thing is, I can't recognise my half-brother ... (because) he's the spitting image of my father and he's a drunkard. How can I recognise him?

"It doesn't just impact the victim, it has a snowballing affect. It impacts the family as you grow. You have your family, there's questions my husband has ... but he doesn't want to know some of those answers to those questions. It's too raw and too confronting.

"I've not had that experience and I'm sure there are many people out there who have not had that experience."

Brenda said the most important thing was survival. "You just take it one step at a time and you just get there. The key thing is to survive," she said.

"I don't want it to define who I am. It's that it happened, I acknowledge that it happened, but it's not who I am."

*Brenda's name has been changed to protect her identity.

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