In New South Wales in the mid-1980s Mimi was a member of St John Cadets, part of St John Ambulance Australia. She left just before she turned 14. Over the preceding 12 or so months she’d been sexually assaulted by one of the volunteers, Felix Tambie.
Tambie was in his mid-30s, and married with children. Mimi babysat the children and Tambie abused her then, at his home, on several occasions. He also assaulted her at an outdoor event where the cadets were volunteering.
The abuse has had lasting effects on Mimi. And as she sought action in response to what had happened, the damage was compounded.
‘I was told by my attacker that no one would believe me and that I deserved what had happened to me, and these messages were perpetuated by both [St John’s] and the police.
‘As a 13-year-old I trusted that the organisation I belonged to was a safe place – after all, it was run by adults that were there to protect children. Unfortunately this was not my experience and the ongoing effects have left a devastating impact, not only on my life but that of my family.’
Mimi first disclosed to her parents before she left cadets, and they contacted a solicitor. The solicitor advised them to drop the matter, because of how traumatic it would be for Mimi to pursue it. They agreed. Her mother then reported Tambie to the organisation, who sent a man and a woman to see Mimi and to take a statement.
Her parents didn’t know the full extent of what Tambie had done to her. Mimi wasn’t able to tell them. Nor was she able to tell the people from St John.
‘I was scared to tell these adults what had happened, when they were all friends [with Tambie]. I could not put into words what had happened, and this remains the case today.’
She gave them a ‘benign’ version of events, in a signed statement. They took this statement to Tambie, and then came back to Mimi with his response. He had denied everything, and described Mimi as ‘jailbait’.
‘I think it was completely inappropriate for them to repeat this to me, particularly as I was a child. It reinforced my sense of shame and fear.’
They took a second statement from Mimi, and then proposed a meeting with Tambie. ‘I just could not do this – I was terrified to go anywhere near him’. And that’s where the matter was left.
A few years later Mimi had another go. She got in touch with St John and asked to see her statements. She was told they didn’t exist anymore – they’d been destroyed.
‘I was very frustrated by this. The issue was still unresolved and I now felt I had nothing to verify my complaint … I couldn’t believe documents of this nature could be destroyed within this time frame.’
The police handling of the matter was equally unsatisfactory. Mimi was first contacted by them in relation to another complaint of abuse at St John. When she told them about Tambie, she was invited to make a formal complaint, and told that someone would contact her. But no one did.
Years later she contacted the police herself and made a formal complaint. The matter was investigated by five different police officers, who she felt were uninterested and dismissive. Finally, after two years, it was dropped. Mimi wasn’t surprised.
‘I could see there was no physical evidence – really it’s a “he said” “she said”. There were no witnesses …What I struggled the most with was having to be proactive in moving the case forward’, she said. ‘At the end of the two years I wondered if it had been worth the anxiety I’d experienced.’
Mimi’s mental health is still fragile. She has depended on the support of her husband, a few good friends, and a psychiatrist she’s been seeing for 16 years to help her through a range of issues. She has been bulimic and anorexic, and has constant flashbacks: ‘I can actually hear, smell and feel the abuse as if it is happening now.’ She can’t be alone at night. She has a daughter, who she’s ‘hypervigilant’ about.
‘Even the simple joy of falling pregnant was riddled with insecurity and anxiety. My view was that if I were to have a boy he’d be a potential abuser, and if I were to have a girl she was a potential victim’, she said.
‘I have survived despite what happened to me, and I have not thrived because of it.’