Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Susan

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Susan describes growing up in a ‘dysfunctional family’, where it was common for family members to put each other down and swear at one another. The relationship between her parents was extremely violent and the police were frequently called to deal with incidents between them.

As a little girl, she adored her brother, but he began sexually abusing her, and she still suffers the lasting effects of this trauma.

She says she never felt loved or cared for by her mother. Instead she was made fun of, called names and often humiliated by her. She felt close to her father, but he was largely absent in her life because he worked night shifts to avoid his wife and the difficult relationship they had. 

One day, when Susan was aged about seven years, she was in her brother’s bedroom when he told her they were going to ‘play a game’. Susan says she idolised her brother, but the ‘game’ turned out to be sexual abuse. Her brother made her touch his penis and then got into bed with her and simulated sex.

Susan remembers that after this incident, she sat cross-legged in assembly at school feeling different to everyone else, ‘like an alien’, and had to leave the assembly to vomit. 

The sexual abuse by her brother continued and he also began to expose himself to Susan and her friends. 

Susan says she would sing in her head or recite school spelling tests during the abuse to distract her from what was happening. She describes how she developed a ‘parallel universe’ that she went to in her head while her brother was abusing her, where she could ‘still be the happy girl’ she used to be.

The sexual abuse continued for three years. Susan became withdrawn and her school work deteriorated because she could not concentrate. She believes these changes would have been evident but ‘nobody seemed to notice’.

On more than one occasion, she tried to escape the family home by getting admitted to hospital by throwing herself down the stairs, taking medication and poisoning herself. She felt safe there, and when she heard discussions about discharging her home, she made up symptoms to enable her to stay in hospital.

She says ‘I wanted to die. I would sit at the side of the road waiting for fast cars, so I could step out in front of them’.

Susan feels let down by the professionals involved in her and her family’s lives, and asks ‘How many people could get it so wrong?’. Teachers, police, mental health workers, doctors and social workers were frequently involved with the family, and they did not seem to see what life was like for her or recognise that the changes in her behaviour needed exploring.

The sexual abuse took place over three years, but she says the impact of it has been lifelong. As an adult she has been diagnosed with PTSD and she experiences panic attacks, anxiety, depression and paranoid thoughts. She receives ongoing support through mental health services. 

Susan no longer has contact with her brother, but she feels that everything in his life is now very positive while she struggles to manage the consequences of what he did to her.

Your privacy

There are very limited circumstances where we tell anyone your name without your consent, for example if a child is currently at risk and we need to tell the police.