Roxette was sexually abused in the 1980s by Ronald, the son of the pastor at her community Christian church. She was six years old and Ronald, a good friend of her brother’s, was in his late teens.
The abuse happened in Roxette’s family home over the course of one day. In different parts of the house, Ronald digitally raped Roxette, masturbated in front of her and repeatedly asked her to have sex with him, grabbing her by the wrists so she couldn’t walk away. ‘He wanted to experiment with kissing and touching.’
Roxette repeatedly said no but he wouldn’t stop.
Roxette’s parents were home that day but didn’t witness the abuse. ‘The abuse I experienced’, Roxette wrote in a statement to the Commission, ‘and the subsequent handling of that abuse has affected every area of my life for the entire duration of my life to date’.
Roxette told her mother soon afterwards what Ronald had done but her mother, who was closely tied to the church, was dismissive and defensive. So Roxette said nothing further to anyone. In the early 1990s, she told a friend, who spoke out on her behalf. Roxette feels like she lost control of her story from that point on.
Her father took her to the police station, determined to press charges against Ronald. But disclosing the sexual abuse to a group of male policemen and her father was too much.
‘I couldn't disclose certain intimate details to these men in front of my father – it was simply too distressing.’ She didn’t tell them that she’d been digitally raped. She began to wish she hadn’t told anyone. Not only was it embarrassing, but she was scared there’d be repercussions for her family.
‘I also felt that I needed to protect my mother who was in complete denial and distress about the whole situation and I felt responsible for her pain.’
An added complication was that Roxette’s parents were separating at around the same time. As part of that, her mother was staying with the community church and her father was leaving it. Roxette’s story was getting entangled in all of this. Her father was leading the charge against Ronald but her mother, and the church community, believed he had a vendetta against them and that he’d coerced Roxette into making false accusations.
Both Roxette and her father were threatened by members of the church. This has never been investigated.
Ronald himself denied all wrongdoing to the police. He was not charged. The police determined Roxette had been influenced by her father into believing that the sexual abuse happened.
A claim for compensation was made in the same year but was unsuccessful. When Roxette saw a psychologist later that same year she deliberately minimised the impacts of the abuse. Everything was okay, she said. She was still protecting her mother. ‘But honestly? I was going through hell internally.’
Roxette lived with one parent and then the other. She changed schools frequently. When she began having migraines her education suffered.
In the early 2000s, after years of emotional strain between them, Roxette realised that for the first time, her mother was willing to believe her. Then Ronald rang her to apologise and to tell her how much he’d suffered as a result of what he’d done to her.
She felt shaky and confused.
‘This was the very truth he denied years earlier that resulted in me being disbelieved and left in the dark. I was left wondering, is this closure? What does closure feel like? … What do I do now? Do I forgive? Do I forget? How come I can't access a feeling about this? Why don't I feel better? Why do I feel ripped off?’
Roxette spoke to a female detective about reopening the case. She applied for an extension of time for her victims compensation case, citing her age at the time of the police report. It was denied.
Roxette’s memories haven’t changed but every time she’s talked about the sexual abuse she’s tempered her story. ‘The more severe the abuse, if I go into detail … does that mean that person’s gonna go to jail? I don’t want to be responsible for that … there’s that fear.’ But now she feels that it’s time to tell her story in her own voice.
‘I’m only learning now to make decisions for myself and be more assertive.’
Roxette has been medically diagnosed with severe obsessive compulsive disorder. She has anxiety attacks, several phobias and difficulty travelling. These issues have left her unable to work. She has difficulty with trust, and relationships have been abusive, but she now has a partner whom she trusts.
Counselling, self-help and practising mindfulness have helped her a lot. ‘While abuse is unacceptable, there’s good that can come out of it and I’ve turned it around.’
Roxette believes it’s important to teach children self-empowerment so they can recognise and deal with any kind of abuse if it happens, ‘so that it doesn’t affect them long term. Because that’s the real danger, it spills out into other relationships’.
Young children need ‘a safe place to have a voice and be heard’.