Bryony was born in Victoria in the mid-1960s. For much of her childhood, she and her siblings were wards of the state and placed in children’s homes, due to the impact of her father’s violence, alcohol addiction and mental illness.
In the mid-70s, while her father was in a psychiatric unit, Bryony was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told her grandfather, who then reported it to the police. The police did nothing and her mother was furious. ‘She never got past the point of I'd divulged about her boyfriend’, Bryony said. ‘She never got over that.’
Bryony’s father returned home soon after and began to rape her in ‘any part of the house’. When she told her mother, she was called a liar. When she went to the police, ‘they turned around and said “Well, you haven't got an adult here, we don't want to know”’. Her caseworker was only concerned about her school attendance, which was disrupted by her mother’s need for her stay home and do the cleaning.
Her father’s threats taught Bryony to be still and silent during the assaults, but after a couple of years she ran away and told the police, who picked her up for truancy. She was placed in a youth detention centre where ‘they all knew’ that her father had been molesting her. ‘I think somebody must have said something … All the staff members knew there and even down to the cook.’
However, rather than report her father to the authorities, Bryony’s caseworkers wrote to him to offer him counselling and a chance to speak with his daughter about how the relationship could change. When he arrived for an unannounced visit, he was furious about her disclosure and made threats. Bryony’s feeling of being safely removed from her family was shattered.
Less than a year later, Bryony was transferred to a youth hostel where, once again, people ‘knew’. ‘It didn't matter what place I was in’, she said, it was “Oh, you've had sex with your father”’. During one of his many visits, a social worker recorded the observation that father and daughter were in an undesirable but consensual relationship.
With her mother’s consent, Bryony was given regular contraceptive injections. ‘Well, they didn't ask the girls about that’, she said. ‘They just got my mother to sign the thing to agree to it. I mean, I wasn't the only one. I mean, there was a heap of girls that came and got it.’ Among the physical effects of the drug on Bryony were ‘bleeding – a lot of bleeding problems’.
About this time, in her mid-teens, Bryony developed a drinking problem and was hospitalised after a suicide attempt. She talked to hospital staff about her father, but it was ‘the usual cycle’, she said. ‘Nobody wants to know … It was just like you were getting passed around from worker to worker.’ When she was discharged, she was returned to the hostel where her father continued his visits.
In the early 80s Bryony’s wardship came to an end and, against the recommendation of ‘a good support worker’, she was sent to live in the family home where her father continued to control and sexually abuse her. In the decades ahead she would give birth to his children, and protect them by denying this fact.
About 20 years later Bryony sought counselling from a person who reported the matter to police, who then conducted an intrusive investigation. Bryony said that she ‘went through their rubbish and they were useless. They weren't any support for any of us … They just pushed me that far, I gave up’. Terrified she might lose her kids, Bryony denied the abuse and got on with her life.
A couple of years later, needing to see a counsellor, Bryony applied for victims of crime compensation and was told that she needed to make a police statement. This time, she spoke to an ‘easy-going’ and trustworthy police officer from the Specialist Crime Sex Abuse Unit who took her statement, and understood that she was not yet ready to press charges. ‘She said, “Fine, that's here when you're ready”. So it took a few years’.
When Bryony did press charges, she said that ‘the biggest hurdle was getting my kids tested for DNA’. However, ‘everything was discreet and done nicely’. The criminal and civil court processes were intimidating, but her lawyer ‘did a really good job’, and the police kept her fully informed and ensured that her children were protected. Bryony’s father pleaded guilty to multiple charges and was sentenced to a lengthy jail term. She received a lump sum payout which enabled her to buy her children a home.
Bryony has frequently been a psychiatric patient, and on numerous occasions has been suicidal. She suffers from depression and anxiety, trusts few people, and goes to great lengths to preserve her privacy. However, she is also a proud and loving mother. ‘Oh, if you met my kids, you’d see why,’ she said.
Bryony would like to see ‘the educated ones’ taught to understand people who report child sexual abuse. She believes that they can’t always distinguish between the impact of sexual assault and mental health issues, or see the connection, and knows from experience that ‘they’re all under the same assumption that … if you're a victim, you're a perpetrator’.
‘I was asked by one girl … “How do you feel about changing your baby's nappy?” And I didn't even let her finish the conversation. I said, “Pick a window”. ”Why?” “'Cause you're leaving by it … I'm not putting up with this”.’