How do we start a discussion on something so heartbreakingly, wickedly destructive?
Child sexual abuse.
There are not many things that make me feel sick to my stomach, but this is one of them. Having researched some dark topics myself – including spending time with child sex trafficking victims in Thailand and hearing their stories – I often feel quite numb to a lot of things now. It never stops me from caring or advocating for the rights of women and children, in fact sometimes it works in my favour by allowing me to press on in my investigations without allowing the darkness to consume me. Occasionally however, a story grips me and breaks down my walls.A few night ago I read a story on ‘Australian Child Abusers Named and Shamed‘ about a young Australian couple who had abused children while in their care. Engaged couple Nicholas James Murdoch (27) and Loren Marita Fothergill (28) had been babysitting a little girl, no older than 2 or 3 years old, when they began to exploit and involve her in pedophilic activity. When I read the graphic detail of what was done to this child, and the content found on the couple’s computer (involving infants of 3 months old), I found myself completely heartbroken.
Image taken from Australian Child Abusers Named and Shamed.
More heartbreaking however, was the sentencing given. Although Judge Brian Harrison had refused to excuse the offenders simply because of their own problematic childhoods, he decided that a sentence of 3 – 3.5 years was reasonable.
I’m going to repeat that. 3.5 years, with parole set for mid 2015.
These monsters could be released NEXT YEAR… Long before their victim fully understands the extent of the irreversible damage done to her body and soul.
Without warning, I burst into tears after reading this story. I lay on the lounge and sobbed and sobbed.
Who is going to stand up for the little girl serving a life sentence? my mind screamed. When will society support the victims?
How is it any surprise that so few victims come forward, given the enormous problems in our own judicial systems and a sick culture of silence.
Now I understand what author and advocate Carrie Bailee means when she says that people want to keep such information in the dark. It’s such a horrible topic, and one that we often feel uncomfortable talking about for fear of ‘offending’ people. Speaking with Mamamia, Bailee explained how people fear talking about child sexual abuse.
“I’ve had (survivors) say they’re in the process of going through court. And it’s so horrific, but people tell them they don’t want to hear about it,” she says. “It’s in the dark. And people just want to keep it there because it’s a shameful, horrible topic.”
Carrie herself, knows more than most just how important it is to speak out about child abuse. She was only 4 years old when her father first sexually assaulted her, and 9 years old when he began selling her to other men. After living through years of torturous hell, she finally escaped to Australia at the age of 20. The damage that was done to her soul, is a deep trauma that will stay with her forever.
Pictures courtesy of Carrie Bailee – Carrie (top left, bottom right) at 4 years old. The abuse is heartbreakingly evident.
Now 39, Carrie is an author and ‘experimental’ spoken word poet who has just released her memoir ‘Flying on Broken Wings’. She is also the founder of The Melbourne Freedom Project, and has recently become an ambassador for the St Kilda Gatehouse; an organisation which provides a safe haven for street workers and the sexually exploited. She is an inspiration and a source of comfort for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, many of whom have never spoken of their own horrors.
“The emails started coming in… “, she wrote on her blog. “Lovely messages from dads horrified that the most important person who is supposed to protect a little girl could do such a thing. Men apologised to me on behalf of all males. Other men told me that they had been abused as little boys and thanked me for my courage. And then women started writing to me. Young women, older women, moms, and grandmothers. I was quite surprised that the article had even resonated, as it was so shocking and graphic.”
Carrie originally feared that telling her story would be too dark, too hard to digest. “My fear was that it would scare people away from my actual message,” she wrote in the blog “Points of Light and Darkness”. “When you are dealing with such a heavy subject matter, you have to be so careful in your delivery because you risk people turning off and shutting down.”
But despite her anxieties, many people have been touched by Carrie’s strength and boldness. Her book has exploded around Australia, selling out across various bookstores and receiving overwhelming appraise. She has spoken loudly and truthfully, with integrity and brutal honesty, and her tenacity to overcome has inspired hundreds of people to overcome their own dark past.
Finding a way to speak on this topic, to grow awareness of child abuse, and to allow former victims to share their stories, is vital to changing our culture. Carrie Bailee is just one of many human beings to have experienced child abuse, and while sadly she will not be the last, we can create change. We must stand united in our communities, to never stay silent when we fear someone is experiencing abuse, and to have age-appropriate conversations with our children regarding their bodies.
Writing passionately on her blog, Carrie urges us to shine a light in the darkness.
“…It is critical society stop viewing the abuse of children in the apathetic way in which it does. Judges, parents, law makers, police officers, teachers. Everybody needs to be aware of this one fact: the first time a child is interfered with, their life is never going to be the same. The global response of sweeping sexual abuse under the rug causes irreparable damage. The message of shame and unworthiness that is embedded by this blatant inaction holds the equivalence of the abuse itself.”
We need to be stronger than fear. We need to be brighter than the darkness.
“As I have always said, each and every one of us is a little broken in some way,” Bailee shares. “I am just a reminder to others that no matter the trauma, it can be possible to rise above suffering and make that flight on broken wings.”