“MAGGIE” (name changed for legal reasons) was only seven the first time her brother-in-law touched her breasts and rubbed her vagina through a pair of shorts.
It was the first of five assaults that confused a little girl who knew it was wrong but didn’t know what to do.
She was scared of her father and felt she couldn’t tell him. He was strict and at times, abusive.
She knew if she said anything she would get the beating, not him.
So she remained silent.
“What could I have done, I was a little girl, I knew it was bad but I didn’t know how to stop it,” she said.
He would say to her: “It’s our secret.”
And for almost half a century it remained that way.
In December 2010, 47 years after that first assault Maggie finally plucked up the courage to walk into Gosford Police Station to report the assaults.
A few days earlier she discovered she wasn’t the only one assaulted by her brother-in-law.
Maggie’s sister was another victim. He assaulted her three times.
Neither had spoken a word about what they had been through but when this man turned up at the funeral of a relative, Maggie could not hide her loathing of this man and her sister picked up on her emotions.
A chat later that night revealed all.
“For years I was hurting but I thought I was getting on with my life, I look back now and I have never recovered, I have never dealt with it, but when I found out what he did to my sister I was furious and vowed he would face a judge for what he did,” Maggie said.
“The time had come.”
For the past two years the two sisters have separately gone through a gruelling court process.
Last month both finally thought they would have their day in court but a judge ruled a permanent stay of proceedings in both matters.
This means that the charges of sexual assault remain on his record but the matters will never go to court based on the current level of evidence.
The judge made the decision on the grounds that he was faced not only with the extreme length of the delay but that the matter involved only one complainant in each instance.
A large number of witnesses, for various reasons, were no longer available for either prosecution or defence.
However, Maggie says both she and her sister had a witness willing to give evidence. They had both made statements.
The judge said it was clear that people could not, in anyway, be considered to have reliable memory of specific events of relatively brief duration occurring between 43 and 47 years ago.
The ruling has gutted Maggie who continues to remember every single second of the assaults.
“Why would I put myself through this, why would anyone do this to themselves or their family, it has been a very distressing time for everyone and if I had known it could have come to this I wouldn’t have bothered.”
Maggie has lived with the knowledge of the abuse throughout her life and it shows.
Relationships haven’t been easy, she has difficulty trusting others.
She loves her family and the relationship with her sister, who was married to the accused at the time of the sexual assaults, is only just starting to repair.
“I am just so angry, I guess my message to others is don’t wait or you will pay the price with your own life,” Maggie said.
Catalyst for Maggie contacting The Singleton Argus is the fact the offences occurred in Singleton and the accused remains living here.
“If he has done it to my sister and I, you just don’t know how many other children he has touched and I just wished he had to face the full strength of the law but now it appears he has gotten off scott free,” Maggie said.
BRAVE OF 'MAGGIE' TO SPEAK OUT
CHILD abuse and neglect reports are on the rise.
For the 2002-2003 year, there were 198,000 notification, which amounts to one report for every 25 children in Australia, and one report of child abuse and neglect every two minutes.
Even more alarming is the substantiation figure, which indicates that one child was confirmed by child protection services as having been harmed every 13 minutes – 40,000 children for the one year period. Of these, 10 per cent are sexual assault. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2004).
That means that one child every two hours is the substantiated victim of child sexual assault in Australia. Add to this that most cases of child sexual assault are not reported.
Bravehearts Inc purpose is to provide therapy, support and advocacy services to survivors of child sexual assault.
According to Bravehearts research and policy development manager Carol Ronken, the realities of child sexual assault, especially the grooming process and the silence and the shame that surround it, mean that many, many victims do not report until they are older.
“This is especially true for historical cases such as Maggie’s,” Ms Ronken said.
“You can imagine that 47 years ago when this first happened to her, no one was speaking about child sexual assault.
“It wasn’t discussed, and certainly there was no recognition that we have these days that offenders groom children to stay quiet or to feel as if they won’t be believed and that offenders are more likely to be someone the child knows and trusts rather than a stranger. In 85-95 per cent of the time the offender is someone known to the child.”
1800 BRAVE1 (1800 272 831) or www.bravehearts.org.au – our counsellors and support staff can help and provide referrals and advice to children, young people, parents/carers and adult survivors.
1800 RESPECT a free national number for sexual assault counselling (1800 737 732), they also offer online counselling: http://www.1800respect.org.au/1800RESPECT-online.html
In NSW there is always the Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 424 017 (website: http://www.nswrapecrisis.com.au/)
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