Trigger warning: Before reading this post, please be aware that it contains descriptions of childhood rape, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse.
My name is Jo, I am 20 years old and my story started at age 6 when those who once gave me security and comfort, turned to stone.
I was born in the year 2000 into a big and beautiful, loving catholic family. We attended church regularly. We had family picnics and summer days at the beach. My siblings and I were regular kids who loved to play and laugh. Our parents, Janet Hadson and Colin Smith, adored every single one of their children and would not have let harm come to a single hair on their heads, until 5 years down the track when the move from Murwillumbah to Leura, NSW, began a long chapter of nightmares that still continue haunt me today.
I still remember the first moment when I felt the shallow change in the father whose shoulders I were once risen up upon. It was like Satan had twisted a thorny lasso around his heart and damaged it so badly that there was no turning back.
9th of June 2006, my 6th birthday and one I wish desperately to forget. Upon my arrival home from school, hair in a plat and wearing my green tartan dress, I entered the living room where there laid a big pile of birthday surprises, but the biggest and nastiest surprise of all was still yet to come when while just trying to be a kid and enjoy these presents I received Colin’s belt buckle straight to the back of the head. This was just the start of regular beatings, many whips from his belt, backhanders across the head and even one incident where my head had left a hole in the wall.
Fast forward 2 years down the track when Colin was no longer the only person to cause me harm. It had been 2 years of many punch ups between siblings. Knives thrown, windows smashed. My sister Deborah and brother Benjamin in the back shed, regularly pulling bongs and becoming heavily intoxicated with aggressive rap music blaring in the background. Suddenly all of this aggression and violence began to turn towards me. The bullying began. The horrible name calling slowly beginning to destroy my self-esteem. A smack on the bum from Janet and Colin if I were to yell at my siblings asking them to stop. This wasn’t all. The aggression from my brothers Joshua, Steven and Benjamin had turned sexual.
It all started the day Joshua and Steven had set up a tent in the back yard. I remember being invited into the tent and being a little 8 year old girl, I accepted the invitation, thinking nothing of it. Crawling into that tent, an innocent child wearing her favourite jumper, covered in monkeys, but that innocence was soon taken when her big brothers had removed their penises from their pants telling her to suck them. She attempted a “no” but was very quickly shut down with the response that they are her brothers so she has to do what they tell her. Many days I still struggle to know who’s to blame. Was it me for sticking around, them for telling me to do it or perhaps Colin for he had peaked his head through the tent door and walked away without a word.
Further down the track, yet another day that will forever be in the back of my mind. A wonder into the back shed soon turned to horror when I turned to the sound of the shed door being rolled down. There stood Joshua, telling me to take off my pants and lay on the couch. A couch I will never forget the sight of, a couch I will never forget the feel of. There I laid when he walked over pulling down his pants and laying his body on top of me. I felt trapped and the pain from his penis penetrating inside of me can still be felt in my sleep today. I cried alongside my weak attempts to get up, only to be pushed back down. Soon came a temporary escape when Steven rolled up the door saying “I’m telling Mum”. One after the other with Steven taking the lead, the three of us marched inside. Into the lounge room, Steven marched to follow through with his threat, only to be shut down with Janet’s response “stop talking rubbish”. Joshua now has free rein to do as he pleases and I simply have to go along with it. Soon after, an invitation to the park leads Joshua and I into yet another place for him to play out his sexual desires. Leading me into some bushes with my back against a tree, I was once again told to pull down my pants. A failed attempt at intercourse standing up did not seem to faze Joshua, until noticing a man nearby who was watching us. Joshua then decided it was time to stop and the man left without saying a thing. After one go on the slide which Joshua was reluctant to give me, we then headed home.
Dreadful home, where the next incident took place in Benjamin’s bedroom. A night time visit which soon turned to a nightmare. Little pink PJ’s, covered in sweet fairies, and soon to be faced with a not so sweet brother. Climbing up onto Benny’s bed when suddenly faced with a penis being pulled from his shorts. Reaching out after being told to touch it, a quick touch and I pulled my hand away. The penis went back in but things didn’t stop there. I was then laid down onto his bed and my pants were pulled down when his left hand began to rub my vagina. Soon, in walks Janet, her face in shock, anger and turning red. With that reaction you would think something very big is about to happen but no, that just was not the case. A night out of the house and the next day Benjamin was back again and all had been forgotten as if it never even happened.
2013, back in Murwillumbah. By this time it had been about 5 years since the sexual abuse had stopped but the physical abuse from Colin and Bullying from the boys was far from over. 2014, you think weed can’t turn somebody violent? Wait until you’re living with an older brother with anger issues and struggling to get hold of his daily addiction. A little too long spent in the bathroom when Benjamin began to get very impatient and his aggressive withdrawal turned to violence. Banging on the door and yelling “if you don’t come out I am going to knock your teeth down your throat”. Remaining locked in with too much fear to leave, all I could do was wait for him to give up. Eventually he stormed outside and I took this opportunity to head back to the bedroom and call police. By memory, then arrived Senior Constable Andrew Marks alongside another officer from Murwillumbah police station. Constable Mark’s response, He was not happy about being called and told us to sort out our own issues.
The year 2015, standing beneath the house when suddenly being pushed against the car by Joshua. Raced up stairs in great distress, once again calling the police. Let’s give the boys in blue another try shall we. Then arrives Senior Constable Stuart Gordon from Murwillumbah police station who very quickly sends me down stairs with his fellow colleague whose only attention seemed directed towards my school life. After a bit of chit chat and Constable Gordon still upstairs with Joshua, Janet and Joshua’s wife to save Joshua’s back, Constable Gordon then arrives back down stairs and both officers leave without even an ounce of reassurance for my safety.
Heading towards the age of 16, I began to discover self-harm as a coping strategy, until one afternoon when losing my blade led to my very first shoplifting offence in order to get another blade. This was not new to me as although being my first time, I had often witness my siblings shoplifting but this was just the first of many reckless actions which then led to criminal activity being a coping strategy for me. Eventually my behaviours caught up with me, landing me my very first sentence in juvenile detention, however, this only made me realise there was a way to force police to remove me from the horrors which I had been encountering at home. This of course didn’t make my fight for safety smooth sailing. 17 years of age and left with a shiner after being smacked across the face with a frozen bottle of water. Plan of action, leave for Tweed Heads, Steal some alcohol and become intoxicated so that police would arrest me. Two officers from Tweed Heads police station picked me up and met Senior Constable Gregory Davidson alongside another officer from Murwillumbah police station half way back to Murwillumbah. The 2 officers from Murwillumbah police station then drove me back to Janet and Colin’s without a single question of how I got the bruise. Next plan of action, Break the police station door as that was my last option in order to force police to remove me from that unsafe environment.
Fast forward to the start of adulthood when drinking and getting myself arrested was still the only escape I knew when struggling or feeling unsafe, but where am I now? I am homeless. With a fear living with other people and not enough funds for accommodation I have no options but to live on the streets. At age 19, after many months of becoming intoxicated and often being picked up by Senior Constable Stuart Gordon who repeatedly took me back to Janet and Colin’s even with my saying not to, I had reached a decision that enough is enough. I had to stand up and say I am a legal adult who is leaving home and nobody can force me to go back.
Where is my drinking and criminal activity now? On and off but improving. Where are those who hurt me? Joshua now has 4 children with hospital records which show abuse and neglect but docs are not doing a thing. Steven is living in the bush with his a drug addict mate. Benjamin is with his 3 children and soon to be wife living a happy life like nothing has ever happened. Colin is a big hero with the Cudgen RFS. Where is my safety from these people? I recently had to escape into Queensland after word that Deborah had offered somebody money to hurt me as a result of openly sharing my story with others. Where are the police as a result of this? I made an attempt to report Deborah to Tweed Heads police station but would they put an AVO on her? They wouldn’t even take my statement.
I have come to a very strong decision that I will not be silenced. My voice may have been taken as a kid but I am now an adult and no threat, no fear will silence me. This is my story and I want the public to hear it.
Photo credit: Image courtesy of the storyteller.