Sonya grew up in an Anglican family, raised by parents who worked full time. For reasons she never really understood, the family moved around a lot. ‘I had nine schools before Grade 8 … My parents worked all the time and we were latch-key kids and daycare kids.’
Sonya’s home life was a constant nightmare. She not only had to cope with a mother who was ‘a really angry lady and she was always annoyed at me’, her father began sexually abusing her from a very young age.
Sonya’s father was a police officer, as were her parents’ friends. This meant that Sonya felt she had no one she could talk to about the abuse. In the mid 1970s, the family moved yet again and Sonya was placed in a kindergarten. By this time her father had been abusing her for two years, and she described herself as ‘already very odd and broken by the time I was six’.
When Sonya arrived at the kindergarten, which was run by two women in their 20s, the first thing she noticed was the enormous dollhouse, which was large enough for children and small adults.
‘I actually remember being in love with it and thinking how I wish I had some dolls. The thing was that the dollhouse was where the special club was.’ Sonya quickly learned that ‘you didn’t have any friends if you weren’t in the club’.
‘To be in the club, they’d take you in there and they would kiss you on the mouth and they’d … take your panties up to your knees and she’d rub you on the vagina. And she rubbed, and the thing that stuck with me was it was so different to what Dad did … It wasn’t as painful as what Dad did to me. But the kissing on the mouth and the rubbing and stuff just felt like something I had to do, just like it was at home.’
It soon became apparent to Sonya that the purpose of the club was to teach the children how the women wanted to be touched.
‘She was showing me what to do and I had to do it to her. And when she said “Do it to me”, something snapped because of home, because of Dad, and I said “No, I can’t do it to you”. And she said “Then we don’t love you anymore. You can’t play with us, you can’t hang around with us and you can’t be in our club”.
‘I came home and told Mum … And I was so distraught. I was crying and I said “I can’t go back, Mum. I can’t go back. They touch me”. And she said “Oh, for God’s sake! What, Sonya?” I said “They’ve been touching me and I don’t wanna touch them”. And she was so angry, she was like “For Christ sake, I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Do it to me”. And I ran away. Because the reason that I wasn’t in the club anymore and nobody loved me was because I wouldn’t do it to them and Mum wanted me to do it to her. And after that I didn’t have anyone to tell. And after that home wasn’t safe and neither was school.’
Sonya returned to the kindergarten where her carers deliberately ostracised her from the other children. Eventually the family moved yet again and Sonya went to a different school, where she spent her recess breaks hiding in out-of-bounds areas where no one could find her.
As an adult, Sonya married and had children but the marriage didn’t last. She has had short-lived periods of career success, interrupted by her diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. ‘Being dissociative means that I‘m very gifted in areas but not for very long. So I can do something for a period of time and then I just don’t even know how. So I only stay in those big jobs for about 18 months. After 12 I start to struggle.’
After the disastrous disclosure to her mother, Sonya never told anyone about the abuse until after the birth of her second child, when her mother was trying to arrange her father to babysit her first child. ‘They thought I had post-natal depression. Of course it was the absolute fear of the fact that I’d just given birth to a girl and Mum was already trying to set it up so that Dad was alone with her.’
Sonya disclosed the abuse by her father and at the kindergarten to her doctor as well as her mother. ‘For the first little bit she was “Oh Sonya, that’s so terrible, we’ll sort it out”. Within 24 hours she was writing to the hospital to try and get me committed. She knew … Even when it all did come out she did her best, she ran around telling people all the time that I’m crazy, liar. She uses my MPD, my dissociative identity disorder. But the fact of the matter is you can’t get what I’ve got without being abused from birth pretty much.’
After an altercation with her father, Sonya ceased contact with her family. ‘I’m completely isolated.’ She tried to make a statement to police but found the process traumatising.
‘You know how you need to do it in one statement? It just would get to eight hours and I’d be on the ground. And everyone was very kind and very good, but it’s just too hard to put that much information into one sitting … They didn’t pressure me, but they did sort of say to me “You know your dad’s a rock spider … and he’s not gonna last very long”. You know, I wasn’t ready. I’d like to be ready.’
Despite being open about the sexual abuse perpetrated by her father, Sonya finds it difficult to talk about what happened at the kindergarten and has never sought compensation nor formally reported it. ‘I’ve actually spent my whole life embarrassed about the kindergarten and I don’t often talk about it. It’s so much easier to talk about what Dad did. But the fact that I got molested twice has always really shamed me.’
Sonya has a very close relationship with her now adult children, who have since moved out. ‘We’re very close, the three of us. They’ve probably had to be way too responsible actually, if anything.’ For several years Sonya has been unable to work due to her mental illness and smokes marijuana to manage her anxiety. She has received psychiatric support in the past, which has been helpful, but finds accessing regular treatment cost prohibitive.
‘I’ve stopped functioning altogether. It was like I raised my kids and then I couldn’t breathe any more. I’m on a disability pension and just trying to afford seeing a psychiatrist, it’s $300 and you’ve got to wait to get your money back. And when you get $800 a fortnight, you’ve got to pay rent and put petrol in your car to get there, you can’t afford to see the psychiatrist. So I’m struggling now to get any kind of treatment …
‘I’d like to change the coalface. I’d like to change the way that you can go about telling someone and getting help, because I know what’s wrong with me and it takes me years to get any help from anyone.’