After enjoying many months of close, platonic friendship, Joanne realised that she was ‘head over heels’ in love with Brett and wanted to progress the relationship. She kissed him. His reaction was not what she expected.
‘He froze’, Joanne said in a written statement, ‘and didn’t know what to do’.
Still, after that first awkward moment, the relationship became a little more affectionate, to the point where Joanne felt it ‘only natural’ to progress to sexual intimacy.
‘But Brett found it very difficult. He was often impotent or simply appeared uninterested. We struggled with this for a while but we soon realised it was causing us more angst than pleasure, so ended our relationship, and also we both didn't want my kids to get hurt. I was heartbroken.’
After separating from Brett, Joanne stepped back and examined their history and the way Brett had behaved. She was worried by what she saw.
‘I knew there was something wrong with Brett, so I decided I would go back and ask him if he had been sexually abused. He slumped to the floor, and cried and sobbed for hours retelling his story.
'I had been the first person he had ever spoken to about his abuse. We decided to try again but we would take it all very slowly and see how it developed. We made a commitment to each other, married and tried to stay strong for each other.’
Joanne has stuck to this commitment, though it hasn’t been easy. She said she wants the Commission to know that ‘it is not only the sexual abuse victim that suffers. Their spouse/partners/families suffer in innumerable ways also’.
Joanne saw how common this suffering is when she attended a support group for partners of survivors of child sexual abuse.
‘Those women (partners) at that meeting were struggling to survive with their lives, they were weighed down with responsibility, grief and sorrow. It then occurred to me that they were as broken as their partners. That their lives had been as implicitly affected as had their partners.
'It's similar to a drug addiction, and how that affects the user and their loved ones and family. The drug/sexual abuse affects all who come into contact with it. The victim does not stand alone in it, he sheds its effects. We, the partners, experience it and we carry it, the “dirty little secret”, as surely as does the victim.’
She presented her own story as a detailed example of this kind of suffering.
‘We do not have a normal marriage. We have always struggled sexually. We have not had intercourse for years, in fact we barely touch each other. Throughout our marriage I have yearned for a normal relationship with Brett. I have often felt rejected and have struggled with self-confidence, and I basically let myself go as I really didn't care, as I have always felt he didn't really care …
‘It makes me feel very sad that we have never had a full and normal relationship and that I will never have sex again. It is not the actual sexual act I refer to (though it obviously is part of it); it is more the connectedness and intimacy that you develop as a couple. I feel I have never had this with Brett, this has been what has been missing.
‘I have tried to explain this to Brett but he has no idea what I am talking about, though he says he does … I then feel I am left to carry the reality of our situation all by myself, not being able to share my experience because who the hell would believe me.
'I feel I carry this dead dark thing inside me that is Brett's “dirty little secret”, and I feel it has consumed any passion or empathy I have ever had for Brett. Now I just don't go to the place where I can be hurt, injured or rejected again.
‘I have tried not to resent Brett because of this thing that comes between us. I find myself at times slipping into resentment, and I try and pull myself out of it. I know Brett had no control over what happened to him. I know it scarred him deeply. I think it still scares the hell out of him.
‘I struggle to understand why Brett can't fully confront his abuse. We are different people, though. I would do things differently. I know nothing will ever change, as my mother would say, "You made your bed now sleep in it!"
'I do love Brett, our love is what it is. We don't have the ideal marriage; it's better than some and not as bad as others.’