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Rochelle Leah's story

In the 1990s, Rochelle was regularly admitted to hospital with a recurring health condition she’d had from the age of about eight.

Every time she went to hospital she would be sent to the same ward and the same bed. Although there were numerous other beds around her she was always alone. ‘I didn’t even realise it was a kids’ ward until I went for a walk one day and saw all these other kids in this other room.’

Rochelle’s parents would take it in turns to stay with her at night and in the mornings they would leave and then return in the afternoon.

A man would come to her in the daytime. This happened on a number of occasions but Rochelle can’t remember how often. He would shut the blinds on the window and pull the curtain around her bed. He wore hospital scrubs and told her he was a doctor and that he had come to examine her.

‘The first couple of times, I remember it just being getting me to lie down on the bed. And he would stroke my hair and say, “It’s okay. I just have to do this”. And he would … feel around to start with, and then he would go under either my pyjamas or my gown … and he used to just use his hands, mostly … to touch me in all different places including my genital area and … inside of me on occasions. There was one occasion, the last time I remember, that he did use his penis to penetrate me.’

Rochelle remembers he was not threatening but quite affectionate. ‘He used to say things like, “I know other people don’t think you’re special, but you’re special” … He said that a lot. “You’re here ’cause you’re special. But people don’t see you the way that I see you”. That kind of language.’

However, he did tell her not to tell anyone. ‘He would just say to me … “People don’t listen to you, do they? So they’re not going to listen to you now”.’

The abuse stopped when Rochelle’s family moved out of the area and that hospital was no longer local for them. By then Rochelle was 12. She didn’t disclose what the man had done to anyone. Her parents were going through a break-up and she felt they weren’t ‘in a space to listen’. Although she doesn’t now believe the abuser knew her personal circumstances, she feels somehow he played on her vulnerability. She also feels other staff might have known what was going on and could have even facilitated the abuse by putting her in the same ward on her own.

Rochelle’s response to the abuse was to pretend it didn’t happen and block it out. She was a good student at school and is still good at acting like everything’s okay. However, she remembers having sexualised behaviour for a girl her age. She had low self-esteem. She was lonely and didn’t talk about herself. She became confused about her sexuality. Her teenage relationships were only about sex and for no other purpose. ‘So, very unhealthy relationships and I was the controlling party in those relationships … I have quite a strong personality so I tried to make sure that I was the person in control in all those situations.’

No one at school asked her if she was okay.

Rochelle described her Christian faith as always having been important to her. Through it, she began to question her behaviour and she realised she needed counselling.

In her mid-20s, further memories and emotions around the abuse were triggered when her father had an extended stay in hospital. This, combined with other factors in Rochelle’s life, caused her to have a breakdown.

Rochelle disclosed the abuse to her counsellor at around this time. It was the first time she told anyone. Soon after this she also told her parents, and her counsellor helped prepare her for this disclosure. Her parents believed her, but she thinks they both might have felt guilty.

Rochelle enjoys a satisfying career helping others. However, the abuse still impacts upon her life, and has done so even more in the last 18 months. Intimacy in her marriage has been affected. She still can’t go to hospital or a doctor on her own.

Rochelle has asked for her hospital records, but she’s been told her admissions were too long ago. She hasn’t reported the abuse to the institution. ‘I know enough about the system to know that I won’t really be believed.’ She doesn’t want to take legal action because she knows she can’t prove anything and the process would be long and drawn out.

‘I know this might sound silly but, because of my background and my training … my issue, so much, is not with the man that did this … My anger is with people who didn’t realise how I was, that I couldn’t tell anyone because they were so wrapped up in their own life. And to be honest, all my anger was towards my parents ... And that no one else saw … because I did have behaviours … You could tell something was happening.’

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