WARNING: This story contains graphic content and may be triggering for some readers.
Lily* was just nine years old when her mother’s partner began sexually abusing her. Confused and fearing for her family’s safety and her own, she kept her harrowing ordeal to herself for two years, until a visit from Life Education to her school helped her find the courage to speak out.
It was 2017, and Lily was now 11 when her class attended the Life Education mobile learning centre.
Although the Life Education program does not specifically address abuse, educators help children recognise their emotions and feelings of being unsafe. They give them an action plan to manage situations in which they feel something is not right, including identifying trusted adults to talk to.
Lily’s mother Sue* explains that it was this part of the lesson that helped her daughter realise that what she was experiencing wasn’t her fault.
“During that visit to the Life Education van, my daughter received messages about appropriate boundaries and healthy relationships. Afterwards, Lily spoke to the school counsellor, who then told the school principal, who then called me.”
Sue says she was devastated to learn that her precious daughter had been the victim of abuse; the perpetrator a person Sue had been in a relationship with for 10 years.
“You honestly just feel like someone pulled the rug out from under you,” says Sue, who had broken off the relationship by the time Lily reported the abuse.
“I wondered why she hadn’t come to me or her older siblings because she’s very close to me, but then she explained that he had threatened her that if she told anyone he would kill her and me.”
Now in Year 8, Lily is described by her mum as creative and clever, with a talent for music, drama and singing. Although the ordeal has taken its toll, she has been receiving regular counselling – and with the support of her family – is gradually working towards emotional recovery.
“I feel like we’re healing,” Sue says. “I worry about how she will be in the future; if she will be emotionally scarred. It’s going to be a tough road. It was something I never saw coming.
“Now, when Lily sees something on the news about child abuse, especially where someone is not believed, she finds that very stressful. She says: ‘I’m lucky they believed me because I didn’t think they would.’”
Sue is grateful that Lily encountered the Life Education program and found the courage to speak out. She believes that if the Life Education program empowered her daughter to speak up about the sexual abuse she had experienced; it may also help other children who have been suffering in silence.
“The sad part is, statistically, child abuse offenders are often someone you know, not a stranger. Letting kids know what is acceptable and what is not, is so important. Awareness is the big thing.
“The Life Education program can give children the ability to know what is right and what is wrong in an age-appropriate context, and just give them the tools to work out that they can speak out and can say something. They might think: ‘I know I’m a child, but adults aren’t always right.’”
The 48-year-old perpetrator was arrested the day after Lily reported the abuse. The case went to criminal trial in May this year. The man was charged with several offences and is due to be sentenced later this month.
“It’s definitely stopped him in his tracks and stopped him from being able to do it to somebody else,” Sue said.
“I’m so thankful to the Life Education program for helping Lily to find her voice and teaching her that she has the right to speak out.”
Names and identifying features have been changed to protect identity. Images used are stock photos.