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Three Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Was Sexually Abused

The basic stranger-danger messages are not enough, unfortunately.

27/02/2017 10:28 AM AEDT | Updated 27/02/2017 10:28 AM AEDT
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"You WILL be believed, go and tell someone! "

There are three messages that would have changed my life if I knew them then. I think about it so much, and had I known these things, my teenage years would have been vastly different. You see, I spent from age 14 to 16 having every shred of dignity and self-worth stripped away from me by a serial paedophile.

Whilst navigating the anxiety and self-doubt of a pubescent teenager, I suffered the physical and mental torture of weekly beatings and ritualised sexual abuse by one Andrew Dean McIntosh: now serving 24 years in protective custody.

A gruelling six weeks in court supported by family and friends back in 2011 saw this predator taken off the street and a significant risk to our community removed. But my childhood was lost and my personality forever changed.

We as parents and protectors must not bury our heads in the sand and assume this happens to other people's kids.

It very nearly killed me, as thoughts of suicide being my only escape plagued me through to my mid-20s. Others have not been as fortunate and, sadly, thousands of stories will never be told.

It has made me stronger, it has given me a voice and most of all an undying determination, through education, to make sure our kids understand how to protect themselves.

That's why I'm writing this blog today.

We as parents and protectors must not bury our heads in the sand and assume this happens to other people's kids. It is paramount that we teach our kids how to identify risk and respond to it.

So what are these three simple messages that our kids need to hear?

1) Be careful of big secrets! If someone is asking you to keep secrets and is asking you to do things that they want you to keep a secret, tell someone.

2) No matter who they are or what authority they profess to have over you, there is no reason for them to invade your personal space, to want to see or touch your private parts.

3) You WILL be believed, go and tell someone! Tell a teacher, a parent, the police. You WILL be believed. Tell and tell again.

It was this final message that perhaps would have been the most important one for me to have heard and believed.

I'm proud to be a national ambassador for Act for Kids, an organisation committed to putting little lives back together after abuse. Their preventative work is just as crucial. "Learn to be safe with Emmy and friends" is a program delivered in years 1 and 2 to teach kids these messages. We need to be discussing this stuff in school. We need to give our kids these lessons to they know they will be believed if something ever happened to them.

The basic stranger-danger messages are not enough, unfortunately. The world is a significantly more complex place than the one I grew up in through the '80s and '90s, and access to our kids has taken a digital twist also.

For me, the only voice I heard was his: "Trust me, Mr Chandler, the school does". No one will believe you if you tell them. I'm the adult and you're just a silly child. Show me your penis -- it's ok, I am your friend. Show me you trust me".

You WILL be believed, go and tell someone! Tell a teacher, a parent, the police. You WILL be believed. Tell and tell again.

Repeated over and over his voice became the mechanism for breaking down my barriers, removing my will to resist and opening me up to years of torment.

Once they open the door and there is an indecent act, shame becomes the new trap and the knife the paedophile will twist over and over again: "Imagine what your friends will think?" "You will destroy your school's reputation". "Your family will be the laughing stock".

I survived but I lost so much. Witnessing others joyfully recount their school life experience renders me silent.

I'm here to tell my story because prevention is so much better than cure. At the heart of prevention is education.

Harm to our children can be avoided. Teach our kids how to say "NO", teach them to go and get help, let them know that no secret is too big to tell someone who can help you, teach them to protect themselves. We can't be there 24x7 after all.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.


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