‘Grandparents are very special – well they should be and we should be special to them.’
Rosie lived in a small country town in Victoria and when she was in her early teens life was ‘busy’, particularly after an accident made it difficult for her father to care for the children.
As a way of helping out, Rosie’s grandmother starting looking after the children, who’d often stay with her and her husband on weekends.
The family were members of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church. They went to church regularly and Rosie and her siblings were involved in an associated youth group. Children were told to respect their elders and to remain silent in the face of disagreement. Elders were ‘always right’.
In the 2000s, Rosie’s step-grandfather, Toby, was a deacon in the SDA Church and a youth group coordinator. He was seen as a ‘good guy’ in the community and had a habit of poking and ticking Rosie and her siblings, which made them uncomfortable. He was ‘a bit creepy’.
Toby sexually abused Rosie over a two-year period from when she was in her early teens. He’d touch her breasts and genitals under a blanket so no one would see. Unbeknownst to Rosie, her sister Lily was also being abused by Toby.
Toby used divisive methods to make Rosie and Lily ‘hate each other’ so they would be separated. They often fought and Toby would use these opportunities to highlight that Rosie was ‘naughty’ so he could punish her.
‘It got to the point where he could see I was dangerous. If he kept pursuing me the way he was, there was a big chance of me coming out with it and exploding and he’d be caught. He couldn’t risk that so he discredited me and humiliated me. If my sister and I had a fight I would get in trouble for it, I’d get belted by him or by my parents.’
Rosie could not tell anyone about the abuse, and Toby continued to be seen as the dominant male in the family.
The abuse stopped when Rosie was 15 and told Toby that she ‘didn’t want to be touched anymore’. At the time she knew what he was doing was wrong but felt confused about whether or not it was sexual abuse.
She found it hard to concentrate at school and ‘just made it’ through her last years. Afterwards she found it hard to hold down a job, and for many years she was dependent on alcohol.
Lily told her parents what Toby had done after she’d been watching a television show that referred to child sexual abuse. Rosie then disclosed that she too had been sexually abused.
Their parents were shocked and immediately believed them.
Rosie’s mother reported Toby to a pastor of the Church, but he wasn’t interested and called the girls liars.
Rosie’s parents also reported Toby to the police, but there wasn’t enough evidence to take further action. Reporting Toby to the police caused a divide within the family because Rosie’s grandmother refused to believe the girls.
‘My own grandmother turned her back on us and called us “lying bitches”. She said that we were perverted and disgusting and that we seduced him.’
The family severed ties with Rosie’s grandparents, and though Rosie continued to attend youth group for a while, she left after a ‘nervous breakdown’. Toby resigned from his position in the Church but when the family left he was reinstated.
Rosie felt ashamed about what had happened and developed signs and symptoms of depression that led to thoughts of self-harm.
‘We were discussing something and something triggered in me and I was a mess. I was crying, I’ve never cried so much in my whole life ... I was so lost for what to do and I found myself locked in a bathroom stall with a blade. I ran it down my arm, I just wanted it to end I didn’t want to be here anymore.’
For several years she struggled, experiencing further episodes of self-harm and a dependence on alcohol and painkillers. It was difficult at first to confide in a counsellor but she found one she trusted and continues to see them regularly.
Family support has been a big thing in Rosie’s life, and she is working to repair her relationship with Lily. Both girls had been involved in discussions with Victoria Police about reopening the case against Toby.