‘It’s kind of like you sort of move into this stuff and then it all gets too overwhelming so you’ve got to move back out, and then you kind of bulldoze a little bit more. But this is over years and years because I was 30 when I first started to even tell anyone that I had this abuse when I was five. Never breathed a word to anyone before that.’
Danielle was born in the late 1960s in regional New South Wales. Her home life was plagued by family violence and silence. Danielle was brutally physically abused by both her mother and father, and her mother was viciously abused by her father.
As a child Danielle was socially isolated from the town community. Her mother, an Anglican, relied on the local minister for support. The Anglican church was located near the family property and the local children would often play in its grounds.
One day, Danielle was sexually abused by two older boys closely linked to the church. They cornered her during one of their games.
‘I remember walking back to the house when it happened and everything felt different. But I absolutely knew I couldn’t say anything to anyone … I wasn’t going to say anything to upset [my mother] … Mum was explosive. She’d just blow up … I saw her explosion as dangerous … and with her tongue as well, nasty sharp tongue.’
The sexual abuse occurred a number of times and impacted significantly upon Danielle. Some of her fellow school students found out and began to bully her.
‘I didn’t know who to talk to … because there was no one called a counsellor in those days … if they dug a little bit deeper maybe – if someone had asked me … I wouldn’t have come out with it straight away but I did want to tell the truth about stuff.’
Danielle believes that her early abuse, from both the boys and her parents, meant that she put up with a violent partner for many years.
‘He came in on the foundation of abuse that I had from my childhood so I was just like a sitting duck … I didn’t even know that what he was doing was abuse until it had been going on for about 10 or 11 years.’
After she left her husband, Danielle spoke to her mother about the sexual abuse. ‘I told my mother about this, ‘cause I started to feel safer – once I got out of the DV situation … I felt I could start to even face some of the earlier stuff.’
Danielle’s mother said, ‘I’m not surprised’. She told Danielle ‘those boys were used to getting away with whatever they liked’. Danielle is now estranged from her family ‘because I can’t connect with them’. They believed she was ‘making a big deal out of nothing, and I just thought … How can you communicate with someone like that?’
Danielle has significant trust issues and has had periods of debilitating anxiety. She has had a number of emotional breakdowns and becomes very distressed when she talks about the abuse.
‘On the surface, I can go out there and function and I can relate to strangers … on the surface I look like a normal adult but underneath … it’s like something is broken inside … Underneath I’m actually still a scared child, a confused child … there’s so much emotion in my own stuff that I can hardly see it straight.’
Over the years, Danielle has received psychological support but is unsure about its long term benefit.
‘I’ve had so much counselling. I’m sick of counselling … it seems like talking re-traumatises me … It’s the same tears, the same distress. I’m getting a bit cynical about counselling.’
She told the Commissioner that she’s a hoarder.
‘I try tidying up but it’s just so exhausting … This is the fallout from this history … even … ordinary day things are just extremely stressful … I might make a little inroad into it but then it’s discouraging because 99 per cent of the house is still a big mountain … But hoarding, more often than not, has a trauma basis to it. The whole idea of home is dangerous for me … It’s taken me a long time to realise that I can actually be safe in my little patch.’