Belinda’s nine-year-old son Mickey was sexually abused on multiple occasions by a teacher at his Catholic school in Tasmania. She didn’t know anything about it until he was 21 when, desperate and suicidal, he told her what had happened to him.
‘I knew 150 percent that he wasn’t lying', Belinda said. 'I knew it must have occurred.'
It explained so much. Mickey had been an ‘angelic little child’, Belinda said – and then, inexplicably and mysteriously, he’d changed. He behaved badly at school and his academic results plummeted. ‘[The principal] said something like, “You don’t have great expectations of him, do you?” She was just so dismissive’, Belinda recalled.
‘He was going off the rails even then.’
At high school, things went further downhill. Mickey became an abuser of drugs and alcohol. He left home at 17. By 21, Belinda said, ‘He was just an absolute mess’.
He was estranged from his younger sisters and his father had lost patience too. ‘He and everybody else had been saying, “You have to cut him loose, it’s beyond a joke”.’
Belinda had always believed that a mother’s love for a child is unconditional. So despite Mickey’s demands – turning up at her work, calling at all hours night and day, creating chaos in her life – she felt she always had to be there to help him.
‘I was just having to make excuses for him all the time; I just could not let him go. Thank god I didn’t.’
After Mickey’s disclosure, in the late 1990s, Belinda and her husband got in touch with the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing. Mickey himself wasn’t well enough to do so. They wanted support, and were also trying to find out the name of Mickey’s abuser. Though Mickey had a clear picture of his face, he couldn’t remember his name. He didn’t want to press charges at this point – his mental health was too fragile – but his parents thought that might change with time.
‘We gave them the story, you know, how bad Mickey was, how he needed help and counselling but that he didn’t want to take this fellow to court or anything because he wasn’t ready to do anything along those lines’, Belinda said. She asked for access to records that would allow them to identify the teacher. ‘They said “We’ll see”. They left it at that.’
Some time later she received a phone call from Towards Healing. She was told there was nothing the agency could do, that the relevant records no longer existed. As well, she was told that Mickey’s negative behaviours – his drug addiction and alcohol abuse – were the result of bad parenting. ‘If we wanted family counselling they could offer that’, Belinda said. ‘But they just really closed the door in our face.’
In the years since Belinda has continued to be Mickey’s number one support. It has been difficult. ‘At times you just wanted to stop the world and get off’, she said.
She has wrestled with her own sense of failure as a parent. Not long after Mickey was abused, the family went on a cruise. On that holiday she looked around and thought about the possibility of sexual predators being on board the ship, and spoke to her children about how to keep themselves safe. Mickey didn’t reveal anything about what he’d quite recently experienced. ‘I have to blame myself – why couldn’t he have told us?’
Mickey was recently awarded a payment through the Victims Compensation Tribunal. Belinda, who now suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, has lodged a claim for compensation as a secondary victim.
‘I don’t know how to move forward', she said. 'It has cost me my career, it cost me everything.’
Belinda sees a psychologist regularly and finds that very helpful. But she also recognises her own mental health is bound up with Mickey’s, and that she won’t get better until he does. She calls him every morning at 7 am and if he doesn’t answer promptly she fears the worst.
‘Where does this end?’ she asked. ‘I just want to see him healthy. I had really resigned myself. I’m starting to get a bit more hope now but I just knew, I’m going to bury him. You know? I’m going to outlive him. I just want to move past all this.’