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Charlotte's story

Charlotte told the Commissioner that she came to the session looking for clarity because she wasn’t sure if the things she’d experienced qualified as sexual abuse.

‘I never thought it was abusive or inappropriate because I didn’t know anything else. And part of my character traits is to minimise all of this, to just not even think it was – it was just a part of growing up.’

Charlotte was fostered by the Martin family in the early 1970s when she was about two and a half years old, and lived with them until she was 25. She described the Martins as a ‘nice, normal suburban family’ who welcomed her whole-heartedly. ‘It was a very supportive family. I never felt like I was an add-on or “the foster child”.’

But the Martin home was also a place where confronting or awkward issues were often swept under the rug. Charlotte said, ‘We call it the house of lumpy carpet’.

Craig was one of the Martin’s biological children. When he was 15 and Charlotte was nine, it became the normal practice for him to babysit her every Friday night while the parents went out.

‘Bath time probably was the start of it. He would help wash me at bath time and that then escalated to me washing him, and then it went from that to him ejaculating.’

Craig’s behaviour continued off and on for the next few years. ‘Then it got to the point where I started maturing and all of it stopped because I think he got worried about impregnating me because he’d manipulate the ejaculate into my vagina area, and I think he started worrying that that would then impregnate me and he’d have a whole raft of issues off the back of that.’

Looking back, Charlotte is conflicted about the Fridays she spent with Craig. She ‘adored’ her older brother and enjoyed the affection and attention he showed but is now aware that the relationship involved an abuse of power and had a profound impact on her life.

‘It’s been a constant sort of struggle for me to stop minimising, go “What harm did it do?” But then I’ve kept it as a ball underwater for so long that it was bound to pop up at some point. So that’s when I was sort of having issues.’

Several years ago Charlotte consulted a psychologist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She said she has made progress in managing the PTSD, ‘But having sexual contact is still something I’m not a 100 per cent comfortable with. So I would like to be better at that, but that also ebbs and flows’.

Charlotte kept the abuse to herself throughout her childhood and teenage years, then in her early 20s she opened up to her partner, James. His response was insightful and supportive. Unfortunately, when Charlotte mentioned it to a few other people their responses were confusing.

‘I really have had a lot of mixed messages, like I told my church pastor and he then told his family and then one of his family members told me I was born of Satan. I told my parents and they just said, “Get over it. It’s part of growing up in a bigger family”.’

These responses gave rise to more complex and conflicted feelings, especially towards her parents.

‘I think I’ve sort of vacillated between the disappointment in that response from them and anger and going “It was your job to protect me” and all those sorts of things … But you also have to see it as a proportion, a small proportion to the vast amount of generosity and love that they’ve shown.’

These days, Charlotte maintains a close relationship with her parents and with all of her siblings except Craig. She is wary of letting him too near her own children but has no plans to report him to police.

‘To be quite honest, any punishment that could be enforced on Craig he does to himself just through being, as an adult, an arsehole. I look at his life and it’s a cavalcade of disasters and I just kind of think there’s nothing that the law or I could do that could make his life worse than he makes it himself.’

During Charlotte’s session the Commissioner made a point of informing her that Crag’s behaviour unequivocally qualifies as sexual abuse. Charlotte was grateful for the clarification. She said:

‘So what I’m going to do is go and write “It Was Abuse” on a piece of paper and I’m going to put it in my drawer at home, and I’m going to put “The Commissioner Said”, and every time I’m at this bit where I go “I’m not worth it”, I’m minimising, I’m going to pull that out and say “The Commissioner Said”.’

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