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Just months before she died, Abbey wrote this poem for her father.

Trigger warning: This post contains graphic details of child sex abuse and suicide, and may be triggering for some readers.

By GRACE JENNINGS-EDQUIST

“I was only a girl hiding under my sheets,” 17-year-old Abbey wrote in a poem addressed to her father.

“I’m broken now, torn and ripped in pieces… I fight to repaid the damage/ your breath remains on my chest.”

Two months after she wrote those chilling lines, Abbey was dead. She would have celebrated her 18th birthday recently, had she survived — but the Western Australian girl never made it to adulthood, because she took her own life in November 2013 after years of alleged abuse by her father, a convicted child sex offender.

Although Abbey’s father was in 2005 convicted of sexually assaulting a friend of Abbey’s, and sentenced to four years in prison for that crime, he was released on parole after two years and granted access visits to his children by the Family Court of Western Australia — a decision that Abbey’s mother believes left the girl deeply confused.

Child sexual assault awareness organisation Bravehearts argues Abbey’s devastating case highlights the inadequacies of Australia’s family court system — and it’s just launched an independent inquiry into the experiences of families in their dealings with child protection agencies and the family courts.

The privately-funded inquiry is, appropriately enough, called Abbey’s Project.

abbeys project
An extract from Abbey’s poem. (Image: supplied)
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“The thing about child sexual assault is, in almost every instance it is preventable if we decide to prevent it. And Abbey’s departure was preventable,” Bravehearts Founder and CEO Hetty Johnston said.

“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, she said.

“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.”

A report based on Abbey’s Project will be submitted to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Assault.

The aim? To instigate review, and potentially change, to the family courts’ processes.

“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,” Ms Johnston said.

She told Mamamia she is hoping the inquiry will promote “better communcation and mutual respect between police, state child protection services” as well as “professional therapists who are working with the children and their families and the family law court.”

“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,” Ms Johnston said.

Currently, “it’s like we’re all standing in our own corners and not communicating”, she said.

“When we really need to focus on the child in the middle of this and realise it really is about them.”

Ms Johnston said she would have liked for the royal commission to have incorporated an investigation into the family court system — but that she hoped, at least, that the momentum of that commission could be harnessed via Abbey’s Project to ensure the issue wasn’t missed.

“We need the communities to put it on their election vote list, make Australia the safest place in the world to raise a child,” she said.

“I think that finally the doors are being edged open just a little and finally I think we may be getting at least heard.”

For more information on Abbey’s Project, please visit Bravehearts and submit an Expression of Interest to allow us to get a quick understanding of whether your story fits within the scope of our Project. You can also call the organisations’ Information and Support Line on 1800 272 831.
If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114. You can also visit the Lifeline website here and the Beyond Blue website here.
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