Originally written as a Horne Prize entry 2017
Violence and abuse have always been a part of history and the current social environment of Australia demands justice by publicly blaming and shaming. But it is not just the perpetrators who are affected it is the victims as well. The accessibility of social media means tall poppy syndrome is more prevalent and vicious than ever. If you have fifteen minutes of fame, no matter what the reason, you will be cut down. It is no longer enough to have the courage to tell your story you will need incredible resilience to stand up against the backlash. People no longer whisper their opinions in private they publish their judgement online for the world to see. The fear of retribution forces silence and this gives the violence and abuse plague permission to grow. Violence and abuse in Australia is on the rise and it’s not just our growing numbers that that is contributing it is our silence. There are those that stand against the silence, the diamonds in the rough.
Recently I met a woman named Kate, a well-respected leader in her work place. On the outset Kate is grace and humility. She heads a special education department at a public school in Brisbane’s northern suburbs. The women who work under her admire her vision, patience, tolerance and love for the children. Kate will not tell you that these women are under her direction but they are her collaborators or co-conspirators. There is a unity and humour among them reminiscent of a generation of war hardened women. Each day brings about its challenges but Kate will tell you there is very little to complain about. To Kate the success of a single child negates the details of departmental pressures.
Privately Kate is a single mother of four who has managed to buy her own home.
‘I am incredibly grateful to God, fate or the universe for blessing me with four gorgeous well-adjusted sons who all love their mum and are wonderful men.’
For these things alone she could be considered a diamond but it is her survival of the past, her ability to keep moving forward that reveals how she became a true diamond in the rough.
Born in 1963 Kate remembers her formative years as a lonely insecure child.
‘The need to remain the embodiment of perfection made me incredibly anxious.’
To the world her family appeared to be the perfect hard working devoted Christian family. In an economic sense they belonged to the higher end of ‘middle’ class. Her father the main bread winner was a miner, her mother a teacher in special education and her brother, five years her senior, a typical boy. Her father’s mining career required them to move regularly throughout the remote mining communities in Australia. When Kate was five they were finally able to settle on the Gold Coast. Kate’s family looks like a strong, safe family unit and it’s hard to image how Kate could feel the way she did. It’s when we peek behind the doors that we understand the reasons behind her loneliness and anxiety.
At primary school Kate was a straight ‘A’ student, selfless and obedient. Home life was God, church and prayer.
The people God accepts will live because of their faith. But he isn’t pleased with anyone who turns back. (Hebrews 10:38)
‘I was allowed to dance but my mother was so heavily involved in the church she was too busy to attend frivolous activities, all I remember is how sad that made me feel.’
Kate describes her mother as a devout militant Christian. Love was conditional on pleasing God the only creator. For a vibrant little girl who loved to dance, create masterpieces and write stories of hope this devout life was soul destroying. She felt her very life essence was wrong in the eyes of her mother and God. A clear gender divide existed in the home and for this reason Kate never built a bond with her brother. Contact between them was kept to a minimum.
‘He teased me like any brother would but that was all. We just existed in the same house.’-Kate
Her father worked away for long periods and this was a blessing for Kate. She had learned from a young age that noise was not acceptable to her father and that her role in the world was blind obedience.
Her mother modelled complete submission to God and husband. Prolonged exposure to this apathetic life left Kate with the ingrained sense of duty, selflessness and forgiveness for all things.
Kate describes the environment as ‘controlled, repressed, oppressive and emotionally neglectful.’
This life was her families’ normal she knew no other way. Unfortunately Kate would later discover that her mother’s capitulation to husband and God gave her father permission to embrace a truly perverse demon.
At the age of thirteen an awakening of sorts occurred. Kate died. She was involved in a horrendous car accident with her brother. She suffered severe head injuries and recalls an out of body experience.
‘I could see this little mangled person wearing my shirt and I realised it was me. I thought “hey I’m not that big” but the thing I remember most was feeling this overwhelming love and acceptance for that child, for myself. I could see people working on me and I knew I really didn’t want to go back.’
The next things Kate remembers are snippets of her mother praying over her and wanting to tell her mother that she had God all wrong. Her mother refused to discuss anything involving the accident aside from telling Kate that it was the power of prayer that saved her.
‘It was a case of lest said more mended’
It should be noted that due to her mother’s belief Kate never returned to the neurologist for a check-up once she was released from hospital. She said her mother firmly believed anything that had happened or would happen was in the hands of God.
This is not considered neglect. In Australia there is a grey area within the scope of religion, human rights and law. In 1998, ARTICLE 18 Freedom of religion and belief by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, recommended a Religious Freedom Act. In 2015 round table religious discussions were held by the Human rights commissioner Tim Wilson. There is still no singular Religious Freedom Act. The lines around religion, rights and law remain blurred.
Kate’s brother left the family not long after the accident and Kate, her mother and father moved to the northern suburbs of Sydney.
In her teen years Kate said: ‘I got a little bit “hot” I grew breasts, got taller and wanted to be popular.’ She described the experience as ‘a little like the ugly duckling becoming a swan.’
School results were no longer important her focus shifted to compassion and helping others. She became a significant member of her all-girls school community. Kate joined a peer support group and returned to dance and drama. Her vibrancy returned and she began to blossom. Her parents thumbed their noses at her desire to be an actress instead pushing her into teaching.
At nineteen the dutiful Kate was well on her way to completion of Teachers College when an eccentric genius, Hap, blew into her life and introduced her to unconditional love. He had a doctorate but had decided it wasn’t the life for him. Instead he travelled as a Disc Jockey, rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous and lived a life of a rock star. Kate was in awe. Her parents disapproved of the twenty seven year age difference but that was insignificant to Kate.
‘It was a meeting of minds. He was and still is the most compassionate, brilliant, wonderful man I know.’ She said with affection that: ‘I was his princess and I loved the craziness of him I still do.’
Kate finished college, worked as a special needs teacher, got married and lived a joyous life. It wasn’t until she fell pregnant that Kate began to see her childhood in a different light. With her eyes open to the wider world and Hap at her side they investigated to see if her childhood had been abusive.
Kate was certainly emotionally neglected however they discovered that there was a dark family secret. Her father was a paedophile, his preference was young boys. They found that he’d had relationships with a number of boys and taken them regularly to their family holiday home. Her mother accompanied them on these trips but occupied a separate room where she slept and prayed. While this revelation sickened Kate the most gut wrenching thing for her was to find out that her brother had been among those harmed. Kate and Hap confronted her parents.
The Australian Institute of Criminology reports that up to 30% of children have experienced sexual abuse. In 2014 The ABS reported that over a quarter of male sexual assault victims were aged 0-9 years.
Helplessness, hurt, shock and shame plagued Kate. Hap took her home, away from her family where he could help her heal. After the confrontation her parents divorced.
At the arrival of their son Kate and Hap lived in wedded bliss. Fourteen months later saw the birth of their second son. Hap worshiped her and the boys but his brilliant mind became fixated on a project he was certain that it would make them millions. He presented the idea to Kate who also got caught up in his excitement. Before she knew it he was on a plane overseas and she was alone with the two young boys. The bliss became a struggle, their second son wouldn’t sleep. Over the next three years the marriage broke down and Hap remained based overseas.
Kate lost the love of her life and slipped into depression. She worked hard to support herself and boys. Her mother reached out and wanted to see the children but it was for appearance only. Kate had no emotional support, she was lost.
According to the Better Health Channel Victoria some of the common problems faced by single parents include: Children misbehaving more for the day-to-day disciplinarian, feeling like the ‘bad guy’ all the time, feeling grieved when your child envies other families, loneliness, clinging to their children for support, the demands of income earning, child raising, housework and having little or no time for themselves.
Sole mothers are more likely than other women to experience debilitating psychological health problems. (Deborah Loxton, 2006)
As a sole parent Kate was not in a small minority group. There were 780 thousand single mother families in June 2012, making up the vast majority of one parent families (81%). (ABS, 2012)
Poverty knocked at her door and so did her father. His generosity was freely given and subtly he began to override her decisions. It wasn’t until Kate’s mother said ‘he’s trying to buy you’ that she realised that he was grooming her to get to her sons. Kate found her fight, her greatest purpose; the protection of her sons.
Kate’s battle went on for years, her father was relentless in his pursuit and when she was at her most battle worn a knight came to her aide. Kate met the man who was to become her second husband. Brett was charming, strong and vibrant and head of department at a children’s hospital to boot. He seemed perfect. Before Kate knew it her father had retreated and she was pregnant with twins but Kate didn’t know what an alcoholic looked like. She didn’t know the signs until after the abuse on her began.
‘His verbal tirades were the most brutal. The damage seeps into your soul’
With the core foundations of Kate’s upbringing invoked; duty, selflessness and forgiveness, it becomes simple to see how she became trapped in ‘The cycle of violence’ . A process where the victim lives on tender hooks while manipulated and controlled by the abuser.
Alcohol abuse and domestic and family violence are known problems in Australia. A project funded by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund sought to investigate family violence in Australia. Its findings were that alcohol was involved in 34 percent of intimate partner violence incidents, and 29 percent of family violence incidents (Prof Peter Miller, 2016)
The relationship had Kate socially isolated, physically exhausted and emotionally battered. There was nowhere to turn. She was suffering from postnatal depression and it was discovered that the twin boys had ADHD. Her second born son was admitted to Redbank House suffering severely from anxiety and hallucinations. He was diagnosed ‘as most likely having Asperger syndrome’. Kate said the medical advice was to take him to BoysTown, leave him and move on. She refused.
Brett became merciless and his attacks on Kate began to extend to hounding her second born son. Her eldest son was compelled to become their defender. The twins were not a target. Kate was in the fight of her life with four boys, three with special needs, no support from family, friends or paid professionals. Desperate she contacted the only man she had ever trusted, Hap. He told her what she needed to hear, he would help her.
Kate meticulously planned the details of her and her children’s escape. She had written a note and was ready to go but Brett unexpectedly took a day off. He found her note hidden away and confronted her sober. At this point, it was Brett that left.
A Personal Safety Survey conducted in 2012 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 40.8% of women had experienced some form of violence since the age of 15.
Just when Kate thought things could not get worse social attitudes began to attack. She lost her job because she was a single mother, single mothers were not permitted to work at the school. She lost friends because she wouldn’t date the men they prescribed. She had to fight against social misconceptions of Asperger’s and ADHD on behalf of her sons. She had to fight incredible shame for what she endured as people questioned her role in it all. She became clinically depressed.
One in five women in Australia will experience depression and one in three will experience anxiety during their lifetime. (beyondblue, n.d.)
Kate explains depression as; ‘Misery. Relentless, black, misery. Nothing in my head could see hope. I felt completely alone.’
She got through each day task by task. The need of her boys her driving force. Her mother offered her a lifeline in Queensland and though Kate new it was a hollow hand it was the only glimmer of hope she could see.
Broken and penniless Kate and the boys moved to Brisbane. Job contracts were sporadic and temporary, but somehow they got by.
Over the next five years Brett drifted in and out causing havoc in their lives. Her father attempted to do the same. Kate said her mother would not intervene on any front because she couldn’t be seen to take sides. Kate found more grit than she knew she possessed and took control.
Kate attempted to anonymously blog about her life as an outlet however a close friend shamed her into silence.
Another blow came when she was suspected of having MS. After the trials of medical testing the symptoms were attributed to the lack of follow up after her accident. Kate was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition known as Grave’s disease and still battles with the symptoms daily.
Against all odds Kate managed to study her Masters in Inclusive Education and when she brought a new house, one with no memories, it was symbolic of a clean slate.
Today Kate shares an incredible bond with her boys, their emotional wounds are still raw but they are united, safe and grateful. She is surrounded by loving compassionate friends and has found her career calling. She gives back to the community through her job, her nature and wisdom. If you met Kate today you would not see the torment of her life or the courage, resilience and strength that she has to keep moving forward each day. What you will feel is the warmth, generosity, patience, acceptance and love of her spirit, her diamond within.
Through Kate’s story we can see that violence and abuse do not discriminate, they can go on for decades before a victim comes forward. Shame and fear keep the victims silent. We need to applaud those who speak out not cut them down. Imagine how spectacular Australia would be if we freed the diamonds from the rough.
If Kate’s story has highlighted issues for you or someone you love please seek help.
Life threatening emergency Police or ambulance: 000
1800RESPECT 24hr national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling hotline. 1800 737 732
Further information on services available can be found at whiteribbon.org.au
ABS, 2012. Labour Force, Australia: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, Jun 2012, s.l.: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
ABS, 2014. Recorded Crime – Victims, Australia, , s.l.: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017. Violence against women in australia, Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission.
beyondblue, n.d. who does it affect. [Online]
Available at: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/women
[Accessed 09 09 2017].
Human Rights commission , 2016. Religious Freedom Roundtable. [Online]
Available at: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/rights-and-freedoms/projects/religious-freedom-roundtable
[Accessed 09 09 2017].
James RP Ogloff, M. C. C. E. M. a. P. M., 2012. Trends and Issues in crime and criminal justice no.440, s.l.: Austrailan Government Australian Institue of Criminology.
Kate, 2017. Diamond in the Rough [Interview] (07,08 09 2017).
MICAH PROGECTS INC, n.d. Brisbane Domestic Violence Service. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bdvs.org.au/resource_files/bdvas/IR_5_Cycle-of-violence-factsheet.pdf
[Accessed 2017 09 09].
Prof Peter Miller, E. C. D. B. C. R. M., 2016. Alcohol/Drug-Involved Family Violence in Australia, ACT: NDLERF.
Scripture quotations are from the Contemporary English Version(CEV) (c) American Bible Society 1991,1995, n.d. Romans 1:17. In: The Big Rescue Bible. Minto: Bible Society Australia, p. 1455.