When Sandi was four, she was molested by her mother’s cousin. He did it while her mother was in the room, but out of her eyesight.
‘I was going to tell Mum and I remember him saying to me that, “See, your mum’s there, she’s watching and she knows about it so there’s no use telling her”, or something along those lines. And I remember sitting there thinking, “He’s doing it in front of my mum, she must know, so obviously that’s just what happens” …
‘I remember at four years old thinking that I must have done something wrong for him to do that.’
When Sandi looks back on this and two other incidents of sexual abuse by other extended family members, she sees how vulnerable it made her.
She met Henry Deasen in the 1990s at an outdoor sporting event in Victoria. The event was a fundraiser for a charity and, like others, Sandi had paid a lot of money to be part of it.
A couple of days into the event, she needed help with her equipment, and Henry Deasen came to her aid. She was 14 and he was in his 50s.
‘I’d worked for an old fella since I was 12 years old who used to run a business … He was a great mentor to me, absolutely fantastic. And when I met this other fellow I just thought the same thing, do you know what I mean? He’s gonna mentor me, he’s gonna show me everything I needed to do.’
They got on well and Sandi saw him again at coaching clinics that she was going to.
‘I continued to go up there every couple of weeks to certain events and whatnot and he got quite chummy and I didn’t think anything of it, stupid fucking … I still blame myself for it because I must have done something to encourage it … We were staying at his mother’s house and it was just him and I this time, and he held me down in the lounge room and raped me.’
Despite understanding now how young and vulnerable she was, Sandi still struggles with issues of blame and guilt.
‘It was just as if he had the power, like he could do what he wanted. And I tried to fight him off in the lounge room that day, and I still get angry at myself that I didn’t have the strength but he was 50. But I’m from a family of boys so I should have been able to fight it off.’
After the rape she saw Deasen again at another event.
‘He tried it on again. I had an argument with him and that’s the last time I saw him. I hitchhiked home from there. I left home after that and life’s been a spiral since then.’
She became a heavy drinker, started using drugs at 18 and became involved with criminal activity when she was 20. She met her husband and had children but the criminal activity continued.
She didn’t talk about the abuse – ‘I just locked it all away and everything was fine and dandy’. But when she was in her late 20s she told her mother about the rape, without mentioning the earlier abuse. Her mother said she didn’t know about it, but she’d always felt something wasn’t right. She encouraged Sandi to go to the police but Sandi said she didn’t have the strength to do it.
Then in the early 2010s Sandi had a car accident and everything came rushing back. She felt she couldn’t cope anymore and she left her children with her parents. She said she just gave up at that point.
Sandi is serving the most recent in a string of jail sentences and is seeing a psychiatrist while she’s inside. She has bipolar disorder and depression, and is now dealing with post-traumatic stress symptoms from the abuse. The thing that has kept her going is her kids. She said thinking about them has stopped her harming herself.
She hasn’t told them about her experiences as she wants to protect them and doesn’t want them to think less of her.
She is now happy to get help with reporting Deasen to the police, but she said apologies or money wouldn’t help her.
‘Nothing’s going to change what happened, whether it was money or not. If there was any money to come I’d like to see it go back into helping other people that probably can’t stand up for themselves. At the end of the day, money means nothing to me. I don’t know how, but if there’s some way of preventing it from happening to someone else. That’s the only reason I agreed to talk today … I just want it to stop so that no-one else gets hurt.’