South Australian victim of crime speaks to break down the stigma

A country SA health professional shares her horrific circumstances involving sexual abuse. Photo: Shutterstock
A country SA health professional shares her horrific circumstances involving sexual abuse. Photo: Shutterstock

Mental scars are still carried by a country South Australian woman decades on after a sex offence was committed against her daughter by her ex-husband.

"Caroline", whose real name and location has been withheld, told of her ordeal after reading about domestic violence through a campaign run by Australian Community Media newspapers, owner of this masthead.

She hopes her story of how her ex-husband was brought to justice will bring hope to other victims of crime.

As the health professional explains, she was dressed in her pyjamas and fixing her young children breakfast one morning in the early 1990s when she had a phone call that ripped her family's world apart.

Her husband of 10 years had been arrested on charges of attempted rape of a young girl.

He was out on his usual work trip when "Caroline" received the call from police.

The bombshell led her to fall to the kitchen floor and break down in front of her children.

"There were no warning signs whatsoever," she told Australian Community Media.

"I remember telling my kids what had happened, saying he is never coming back into this house, ever, and my daughter just started screaming."

It was only then did she realise her daughter had been sexually abused.

"Caroline" quickly dressed her children and drove them to the nearest police station.

"I remember walking in with my little kids, all of us distressed," she said.

"I went up to the desk sergeant saying that I needed to make a report ... and blurted out everything."

Police officers acted swiftly.

After a series of interviews, a detective explained to "Caroline" the next steps and was honest in telling her at that time only one in five children speak up.

"Statistically, back then, a good outcome was unlikely," she said.

But "Caroline" said that as a young mother, "it was a case of curl up in a ball and do nothing or put on my boots and do whatever it takes within the law to do something".

"That was my decision from that moment," she said.

"Caroline" was dealt another blow when her ex-husband's workplace shared whisperings of him talking with other like-minded people.

"I thought well I am now going to need bigger boots ... I may be little, I may not have a big voice, but watch me, especially when it comes to my children," she said.

"Caroline" and her daughter were soon assigned a prosecutor who only took cases involving sexual abuse and had never lost a case.

The prosecutor later admitted to "Caroline" it was the hardest case he had dealt with in his career.

"He was brilliant and I am a believer that sometimes the right people are put in your way."

The case was heard in court 18 months later.

After seven days of hearings, her ex-husband was found guilty by a jury and gaoled.

He had already appeared in court over another sex charge.

Yet the months in the lead-up to her daughter's case took its toll on "Caroline's" family who were forced to sleep on other people's floors for fear of their lives.

"My ex-husband said, 'I will kill you all'," she said.

Sadly, there was no mobile phone technology to prove his word against hers.

A request to have her landline tapped was honoured, but she said this took time.

For support, "Caroline" turned to her church.

The family relied on financial assistance during those months and lived on food parcels to get by.

Relief also came when the church's welfare officer was appointed by the court to support her daughter when giving evidence.

"The outcome was - we survived," she said.

"We also managed to get anti-stalking laws strengthened."

But, sadly, the family was struck with more bad news years later when one of "Caroline's" children took their own life. She believes it was the result of past events.

"There were no signs of depression ... all of my children went to psychologists and psychiatrists for years to ensure they were being supported," she said.

While her mental scars remain, she proudly speaks of her "gorgeous family".

Impressively, her unique circumstances encouraged her to make a better life for her family which led her to become a nurse.

She says victims of crime and families in domestic violence relationships should be better protected without fearing for their lives.

Furthermore, she wants the stigma associated with families and individuals who suddenly become victims of crime to be removed.

"I had no idea what he was capable of. Like I said, even with my daughter, there were no signs, I had no idea," she said.

Her situation resulted in the family's big friendship circle dwindling to three.

She knows her ex-husband is now living interstate and, while he did try a few years back to see her, trust in a policeman led to an arrest.

For protection and peace of mind she now has in place an indefinite intervention order for a 100km radius around her hometown.

"I can't say that time heals. You somehow just get better at coping with the situation," she said.

For Victims of Crime support and assistance visit www.voc.sa.gov.au.