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Lana's story

Considering the trauma she’d suffered as a child, Lana felt that she’d managed pretty well at life. She’d raised several happy, healthy kids, educated herself and maintained a strong relationship with her husband for over 20 years. It seemed like everything was under control. Then, about a year ago, she became ‘unglued’.

‘Over the last few months the “craziness” has got out of hand’, she said in a written statement.

‘Last year I attempted to take my own life. Thankfully, I had enough presence of mind that I called my best friend for help. My friend woke my husband up, came over to my house and took me to the hospital.

‘I recently made another attempt at taking my own life, but this time I wanted to succeed. The last thing I remember is going to the kitchen to take my tablets for bed and then waking up in hospital the next morning. I have no recollection of taking anything else or feeling down at the time. It's as though my brain snapped. I feel now like jumping out of my skin for no apparent reason.’

After the second hospitalisation, Lana spoke to a doctor who put her on a new regime of medication. Lana also sought out a psychologist and commenced regular counselling sessions. With the psychologist’s help she is hoping to ‘unpack’ herself and finally resolve some of the issues she’s been suppressing for the last 40 years.

It began in Canberra in the mid-1970s when Lana was about five years old. Her mother worked fulltime, so for after-school care and holidays Lana was sent to a facility run by the YMCA. After a few sessions at the facility she was approached by the caretaker, Mr Stewart. He took her into a supply room at the back of the property and sexually abused her.

The first incident involved touching and licking. Later, Mr Stewart progressed to other sex acts, including urinating on Lana and trying to penetrate her, which Lana said was very painful.

Lana knew of other girls who were also being abused by Mr Stewart but she never talked to them about it. ‘Because he frightened me. He was quite a gnarly, stinky man. He was horrible.’

Mr Stewart’s wife knew what was happening. Once or twice she saw Mr Stewart kissing Lana and objected but he told her to shut up and she went away without a word.

After about 18 months Lana moved with her mother to a new suburb. For the sake of convenience, Lana’s mum enrolled her in a different after-school program that was closer to home, and Lana never had to see Mr Stewart again.

The next few years were tough. Lana frequently wet the bed. She became socially withdrawn, started pulling her hair out, compulsively licked her lips until they bled and was reluctant to get undressed even when having a shower.

Alarmed, Lana’s mother took her to see a counsellor. Lana didn’t tell the counsellor or her mother about the sexual abuse. In fact, Lana didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until, at age 18, she told Michael, a long-time friend who had just become her boyfriend. He was ‘amazing’, providing her with generous, patient support. When he died suddenly a short while later, Lana felt like she lost her ‘safety net’.

Still, she had always had a strong core of self-reliance, which she drew on for the next few years, managing to build a happy, successful life. In the early 1990s she saw that the police were running an anti-paedophile task force and she met with them and told her story.

After the meeting the police conducted a brief investigation then called to update Lana on what they’d found. It wasn’t the news she’d hoped for. Mr Stewart was dead, the police said, so they were dropping the case. The best they could do was to put Lana in touch with Mr Derwent, the man who ran the YMCA facility back when she was abused.

Mr Derwent later rang Lana and apologised for what had happened to her under his watch. He offered no counselling or support. Instead, he spent some time explaining to Lana that, at the time of the incidents, Mr Stewart was a mentally unstable man.

Lana said she ‘carried a lot of anger around’ after that conversation. She was baffled and appalled, wondering why, if the YMCA knew that Mr Stewart was unstable, they let him have access to children.

Still, even after this blow, Lana kept herself together, successfully navigating all the ups and downs of daily life. Aided by the loving support of her husband, she seemed to be doing fine until the sudden change last year. Lana still doesn’t know what set her off but she knows that it could easily happen again if she doesn’t get help.

‘As I left many of my issues and memories un-resolved for so long, my capacity to cope has deteriorated to a degree that if left un-treated it will cause more harm to me. My therapist will in time engage me in trauma therapy to help release some of the issues and help me better to understand why I'm not doing so well now. Hopefully in time I will then have some tools to better cope in my day to day life.’

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