Phillipa Grace's story

‘I have in the past thought about going to the police and shied away from it. It’s so hard to lift the lid on this stuff. So hard to … talk about this. It’s so hard to say anything. It’s so hard because you have to go through that horrible, horrible, horrible emotional stuff. And there’s no way that you can talk about it without feeling that. So unless you’re really strong you have to just stop talking about it because it would destroy you.’

In the early 1970s, when Phillipa was nine years old, her family arrived in Australia. She found the move from one culture to another, traumatic.

She had already experienced sexual abuse. Her much older half-brother, Damien, abused her when she was four.

At the age of 11 Phillipa joined her siblings at the local sports club. Their coach was Bob Nolan. In winter the club hired a facility which was further away. As it was too far to ride their bikes, Nolan used to pick the siblings up and drive them.

After coaching, Nolan needed to return the keys to the office. He would ask Phillipa to go with him. ‘I was an 11-year-old kid … skipping, laughing, giggling … and it was dark … In time he would start tickling me. Then it got to the point where he was actually fondling me and then to the stage that he would be actually using his hands to penetrate. Kissing me. And I, you know, just thought it was a game, I guess.’

Phillipa didn’t tell anyone. She didn’t fully understand that what was happening was wrong. Sex had not been discussed in any way in her family.

The abuse occurred that winter and possibly the next winter as well. During the summer holidays Damien worked for Nolan’s business. One day Damien said that Phillipa could come with them. She can’t remember if anything happened that day or not, but she does remember crying on the way home in the car. When asked what the matter was, she replied ‘Nothing, nothing’.

The following week Phillipa avoided training. ‘That was the end of it.’

At some stage, Phillipa disclosed Damien’s sexual abuse to her older sister who reported it to their parents. There was no follow up from them and this reinforced for Phillipa the need to not disclose Nolan’s abuse.

Phillipa has had a successful and rewarding professional career. She married and had children, and caring for them has been a resilience factor in her life. However, the impacts of the abuse have been profound. For many years she blamed herself. She has had flashbacks and nightmares. She hadn’t developed a healthy relationship to sex and engaged in risky behaviour.

She met her first husband, with whom she felt safe, while a teenager. ‘I think if I hadn’t met Luke, there’s a very good chance I could’ve ended up with HIV … certainly be much more significantly hurt. There were no boundaries.’ She sometimes experienced waves of anxiety when her own children were young, concerned for their safety.

Her children, a career where she helps people, counselling and good friends have all strengthened Phillipa. She told the Commissioner that sometimes she wishes she could live in a world where it hadn’t happened.

‘That really would be a lot easier because you can be doing something as simple as, you know, pruning the garden and all of a sudden … you have this emotional stuff to deal with that’s come out of completely nowhere, and you just have to cope with it. And you have no way of expressing it because, of course, you can’t talk about it. Because no one knows and no one understands the impact, or the fact that you can be out there pruning the garden and suddenly you’re in this awful place.’

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