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Charmaine is grateful her children have a ‘wonderful father’ and won’t go through what she did

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Because of her father’s career, Charmaine and her family moved house every year.

She thinks this transient lifestyle led to her and her brothers being isolated and made abuse by her father easy to hide. 

Charmaine grew up with her parents and brothers in the 1960s and 70s. The family had to move frequently and often lived abroad, due to her father’s work.

Because the children went to so many different schools and moved so often, they did not build up relationships with other children, teachers or relatives. ‘There was no support outside the family’ she says.

She describes her mother as ‘very sterile’ and emotionally unavailable to her children. She now believes she may have suffered postnatal depression. Charmaine’s father drank heavily and her mother often retired to bed to escape him.

Sometimes, in their mother’s absence, their father would instigate drinking games with the older children, who were between the ages of nine and 13 years. Charmaine remembers how they would become very drunk and sometimes be sick from the alcohol.

On one occasion after one of these games, Charmaine fell asleep on her father’s knee and woke to find him molesting her. She was 11 years old and she vividly recalls being horrified because she had always felt he was the parent who loved her. She says it was a ‘lightning rod moment of terror … it ruined everything for me’. 

Over the years, Charmaine says her father would regularly expose himself to her, come into the bathroom when she was showering, or pull off her towel when she came out of the bathroom. Sometimes he took photographs of her partially dressed, and he and her brothers would laugh at her.

She says ‘I remember finding the photographs later and feeling so horrible’.

He would buy her inappropriate gifts, including erotic underwear and t-shirts with sexualised slogans that she didn’t understand at the time. She recalls feeling very embarrassed and he would laugh at her and call her ‘prudish and Victorian’. 

She remembers him taking her out sometimes and telling people she was his girlfriend. Her mother never intervened to protect her, and sometimes even blamed Charmaine for her father’s behaviour. At times, he would threaten to commit suicide and her mother would say it was Charmaine’s fault. 

As a young teenager, Charmaine’s schoolwork started to deteriorate and she would truant and run away from home. ‘My school reports got worse and worse … I remember feeling so depressed’ she says. 

On one occasion when the police found her and took her home, her mother hadn’t noticed she had gone missing. No one asked why she had run away.

When she was 15, the family went on holiday and an adult male started paying attention to Charmaine and buying her drinks in a bar. Her parents left her with this man and went to bed. He invited her to his room and sexually assaulted her. ‘I was so naive’ she says. 

She told him she was 15 and he begged her not to tell anyone what he had done.

Charmaine did tell her parents but her father laughed and made a joke about it. She remembers the assault left her feeling afraid of men, and that ‘growing into a young woman was very dangerous’. She spent the rest of the holiday hiding and hoping she would not see the man again. 

She has self-harmed and attempted suicide several times, and is a recovering alcoholic. She says ‘The 12-step program is the best thing I ever did’.

Charmaine would like to see consideration given to how children of parents who move a lot, such as those in the armed forces, can access support. ‘I went to 12 different schools; it was chaotic’ she says.

She is now married with children, and says that support from her husband and family has enabled her to move on and recover from alcoholism and the impact of the abuse. 

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