This is the first time I’m telling this story. I wrote it five months ago. I was feeling inspired by two things that occurred at the time. First, I had a private hearing with Hon. Justice McLellan of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I recounted my experience of sexual harassment over the course of 18 months by the School Chaplain when I was 16 years old. Second, I watched a friend bravely launch the #heartonmysleeve movement to de-stigmatise mental health issues.
But then I saved it and closed my laptop. Something stopped me from sharing it. A feeling of embarrassment, inadequacy and a deep fear of what people might think. How their perception of me might change for the worse.
Fast forward to the past week and my news feed is full of people posting #metoo. Speaking out against the bullshit status quo of sexual abuse and harassment that permeates society; a topic I’m deeply passionate about. I wrote, deleted, then rewrote #metoo probably 15 times. Then I hit ‘post’. Then felt instantly exposed and vulnerable. Then a friend posted this article and it all fell into place.
For over a decade, I have kept the events that unfolded at school secret from almost everyone in my life. I was threatened by the perpetrator to not speak up for risk that it would “get him fired” or impact his wife and kids, I was advised by the School Principal and Diocese of Sydney when I did come forward to deal with the issue privately. I assume not to cause unnecessary bad press for the Anglican church or an elite Sydney private school. And I was encouraged by my closest confidants not to discuss the circumstances for fear that it may impact people’s perception of me or my studies. Things like “You wouldn’t want people to think that you came onto him, or solicited his attention, would you?”.
What happens when you swallow a secret is that it eats you up inside. For 12 years, I have battled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression. To the outside world, I was like any other teenager with a busy life filled with friends, a boyfriend, school and sport. But I was imploding on the inside. I suffered paranoia, insomnia, social anxiety, panic attacks and depression. I was treated with antidepressants and anti-psychotic medication for three years and received countless hours of psychiatric care.
Despite finishing school, graduating from university, landing a great job and creating a beautiful family, I could never reconcile one thing. I always felt my clinical diagnosis wasn’t justified. I must have been weak or dramatic, needy or exaggerating. In fact, the former Director of Professional Standards for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney wrote to me “…hopefully the events have not had any ongoing serious effects… and that in due course (I) will be able to put the matter behind (me).” But I didn’t put it behind me; I still haven’t fully overcome it. Because when I think about posting two words amongst a closed group of friends to support a cause I believe in more than anything, I still feel inadequate and unjustified. And that’s the shitty thing about abuse.
The truth is that my trust in a person of authority was shattered and I was told to quietly clean up the shards of glass and move on with my life.
It’s not ok to make comments or advances of a sexual or otherwise inappropriate nature to a child (or anyone for that matter) and no one should be silenced for fear of consequence. It seems obvious but somehow I distorted this truth in my mind for years, slowly eating away at my sense of self.
So despite the resounding fear of sharing my story, the fact I have to literally close my eyes and hit ‘post’ and especially knowing this may be read by people I went to school with, new friends or colleagues, I say #metoo.
Now what can we do to fix this so our kids don't have to grow up in a world where this is tolerated?