I am broken
I was only a girl
hiding under my sheets
you took away all my innocence
left me dead inside
You left me alone
to work it all out by myself
confused and lost I walked
through the tunnels of pain
You left me alone
after those nights
my silent tears never heard
my roar inside left to burn out
You stole me from my cave
abused my soul and took my trust
ditched it in a hole
and left me in the cold
I'm broken now
torn and ripped in pieces
i fight to repair the damage
but your breath remains on my chest
This cry for help was written by 17-year-old Abbey to her father - a convicted child sex offender. Just two months later she would be dead. On that day in November 2013 the light inside this once bright and bubbly West Australian teenager was snuffed out when she tragically took her own life.
Abbey's story is testament to the devastation this abhorent crime has on young victims.
In 2002, Abbey's father was criminally charged for the sexual assault of her best friend, who was eight at the time of her disclosure.
It would take Abbey another decade to disclose that she, too, was assaulted by her father with her best friend on regular sleepovers. In 2005, her father was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison, released on parole after two years. Upon his release, the father was granted access visits with his children by the Family Court of Western Australia.
Court-ordered contact with her father left a pre-teen Abbey deeply confused, said her mother, seeding the anorexia and self-harm that plagued her teens.
Abbey though gone, will not be forgotten. Recently her mother had to endure yet another heart-wrenching day without her daughter. As questions and tears flooded by without answers, she sat and reached out for Abbey. It would have been her 18th birthday.
"Abbey was just the most beautiful soul; she didnt deserve to die," she says.
Bravehearts has launched a privately funded inquiry titled Abbey’s Project to uncover and reflect the experiences, testimony and outcomes for families and other stakeholders in their dealings with the Family Courts (and related child protection agencies) to better protect children against child sexual assault.
Bravehearts is aware of many instances where deficiencies in the Family Court practices, policies and procedures have resulted in children being assaulted and placed at serious risk of sexual harm.
Bravehearts Founder and CEO Hetty Johnston, said the judicial systems are failing children on all levels.
“Whether its child sexual assault, domestic violence, or both, the fact is there is no accountability and no transparency within the Family Courts and that is a combination that is always dangerous in any situation and in any organisation - including our judicial system,” she said.
“The Family Courts continually demonstrate profound ignorance and/or indifference in putting our children in danger so consistently.
“The community has had enough of these courts ignoring the testimony of children, banning access to all support to the families and children making allegations of harm for fear of the courts retribution, demonising the credibility of protective parents and destroying the lives of children.
“We have seen the courts continually put the rights of repeat, dangerous and /or violent offenders and child sex predators above the safety of the most vulnerable members of the community.”
Ms Johnston said the Family Court is a critical institution that interacts with and deals with issues of child sexual assault daily. Improvements to practices, policies and procedures within this institution will have a positive impact on a large number of Australian sexual assault survivors.
“We are seeking information and experiences from those who have been involved in the Family Courts where there have been allegations of child sexual assault. These stories will allow us to complete this project using some statistical analysis and testimonials from people who have been involved in the Family Court process,” she said.
Bravehearts is collaborating with some of Australia’s preeminent experts in child protection and family law with Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO, Dr Elspeth McInnes AM and Dr Wendy Foote assisting on Abbey’s Project.
A report will be submitted to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Assault and other relevant stakeholders with the aim of instigating review, and potentially change, to the Family Court of Australia’s processes.
Ms Johnston, an advisor to the 2012-2013 Queensland Government's Child Protection Inquiry, says these stories will point the Commission to the systemic failures in that institution.
“The report will seek to better inform the Royal Commission and the general community of the responses the court has given to child sexual assault and some foreseeable ways to strengthen these responses in the future,” she said.
“We are hoping that this focussed project will be the precursor for a much larger and broader inquiry into the operations of the Family Court of Australia (and related child protection organisations and institutions).
“Every week in Australia, the Family Courts are ordering children into contact with, and even into the custody of parents who are dangerous, toxic, and abusive because Family Courts do not have the powers, expertise, and resources to competently investigate allegations of child abuse.”