real life

As a child, Julia was raped. In her 30s, a family member told her the full truth.

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of child sexual abuse that may be distressing to some readers.

Julia refuses to be a victim. Despite suffering a horrific trauma as a seven-year-old child, Julia doesn't want that moment to define who she is. Her story is one of triumph over extreme adversity - and she wants other survivors to know, there is a way through and that healing is possible.

When Julia became a child protection counsellor, she didn't realise how confronting the stories she would hear would be. And eventually, it took a toll.

For decades, Julia had disassociated from something she had experienced as a young girl.

She pushed down the memories, the thoughts and emotions to the very back of her mind, determined to "not be a victim".

"I lived behind a mask for so long, like I was trying to convince myself and everyone around me that I was okay and a success. And often I was doing well. I had to always look good, always live in a nice place and nice area," Julia told Mamamia. "But you can't stay in that state forever. It's finite." 

On one ordinary day, Julia realised there was in fact strength in showing vulnerability. The facade had broken, the years of buried trauma seeping through the cracks. 

"After my father died, I started to unravel. I was in my 30s and all the emotion came to the surface. I called my brother one day and said 'I want to talk to you about something.' And he immediately replied: 'Do you mean that night in the hotel room when we were kids?' He validated everything I had been through. 'Yes - it happened', he said."



Julia grew up in regional NSW, in a relatively stable and happy family. She had an older brother who she got on well with, and two parents who loved one another, but perhaps didn't extend that warmth and attention to their kids. It was a different generation of parenting. 

When Julia was seven, she and her brother were sent to her aunt's place for the school holidays.

Once there, the kids were put up in a local pub, Julia's aunt deciding she didn't want the kids to stay at her place. Julia's parents weren't aware that their two kids would be staying at the pub with accommodation, nor did Julia or her brother have prior warning. 

Overnight in the pub, the aunt had told the pub's manager to leave the kids' room door ajar and keep an eye on them for her. The manager had not kept his word. Back in the early '50s, these sorts of pubs were incredibly rough - an environment where alcohol and gambling were rife, along with violence and misogyny. Even while standing up at the bar for a drink, punters could urinate in the 'piss trough' located along the edge of the bar. It was no place for children. 

While Julia and her nine-year-old brother were sleeping, an intoxicated male stranger entered their room. And he began to rape seven-year-old Julia. 

Julia has a very strong memory of what happened once that man entered the room, as does her brother. But when the man had left, both were paralysed with fear. And it wasn't spoken about until 30 years later.


Watch Grace Tame talk on the power of abuse survivors' stories. Story continues below.

Video via National Press Club.

When Julia's aunt returned to the pub, it was obvious that something depraved had occurred, and she notified the pub's manager who then contacted the authorities.

"My brother had told the adults that a man had come into the room and gone into bed with his little sister. I remember afterwards being taken away by the police - male police officers - by myself," Julia told Mamamia.

"My aunt didn't come with me to the police station, nor did my parents who weren't in the town. I felt numb and terrified, being surrounded by strange men. Once out of the police car, I was then examined by the male police for signs of sexual assault. That's how it was in those days - no understanding for how a situation like that could be re-traumatising for a victim of child sexual abuse."

The rapist was never held to account, with police unable to locate the stranger. 

Julia's aunt never spoke to Julia about what happened, nor did Julia's parents. It wasn't until Julia's father died years later, that Julia discovered her parents did in fact know about the rape - and yet they had never consoled or spoken to their young daughter about it. 


Nor did they speak about it to Julia's brother.

For some time, Julia struggled with her identity as a result of what she had experienced as a child. She struggled in school with learning difficulties, constantly thinking she was "dumb and not good enough", which was of course not the case. But as she explained: "trauma can have a profound impact on the developing brain".

She also felt aimless when it came to her career for decades, morphing into a serial job changer. She at one point maxed out her credit cards and had to file for bankruptcy. Her health was impacted as well. Julia experienced two ruptured ectopic pregnancies, and then had a hysterectomy at 39. Now Julia lives with serious chronic pain issues, particularly in her back. 

But Julia is one incredibly strong woman - and she doesn't want or need any pity. 

As for her relationships, Julia said until her current partner, she couldn't live without a man. Subconsciously it had been ingrained in Julia as a child that her entire worth could be found in a relationship.  

"I could not live without a man - I was completely co-dependent. I did not amount to anything without somebody by my side, but no relationship lasted more than three years. I also married twice, and the second marriage lasted four days. He was a shocking gaslighter," Julia reflected.


Julia's last relationship before her current partner was abusive too. 

"You never knew when he was going to blow up at you," she said. "We were these two broken people trying to make one another whole, but it wasn't working. Leaving was the best thing I did."

Julia in her early years. Image: Supplied. 

Leaving that abusive man, Julia went to live in a regional area west of Sydney and began to focus on herself. She had always wanted to go to university, but had been forever told in school that she wasn't bright enough. But Julia wanted to prove them wrong.


And she did exactly that.

At age 50, she enrolled in university, excelled, and went on to do a master's degree. She even wrote an outstanding thesis that received a distinction, titled - 'Our Biography Becomes Our Biology: Does Childhood Sexual Assault Cause Diseases of The Reproductive Organs in Adults?'

Julia's post-grad counselling degree eventually led her to become a child protection counsellor when she was 60. It was a job she was initially confident to do from a life-experience perspective - helping young people find their way through serious trauma. And for years she did exactly that. But there's an emotional toll for anyone who is privy to the pain these young people found themselves in.

And Julia, like any person, found it hard to cope with.

"Being a child protection counsellor was probably the worst decision of my life," Julia told Mamamia

"I was the only advocate for these children. And before each meeting, I would have to read the court and psychologist reports, delving into why that child had been removed from their home. And it was harrowing."

One memory that sticks with Julia is the work she did with one of her clients, a young girl.

She had been through serious trauma in her short amount of years. When Julia walked into the counselling room to meet with the young girl, she found the little girl underneath the table in the foetal position, terrified to come out. So to build trust, Julia would lay down on the floor next to the girl, the pair lying in the foetal position together and communicating. And for weeks and weeks, this is how they would interact with one another. 


For many survivors of child sexual abuse, they often talk about the challenges they face when they become parents themselves - seeing how young and vulnerable children are. For Julia working with these traumatised kids, it was confronting. And it led to Julia being medically retired. For many first responders, they often experience vicarious trauma

"The pain I feel as another adult of having to let those children down, it still hurts today," Julia said.

"I was not allowed to go back and tell any of my clients that I couldn't come back. I never got to have a proper goodbye. And I still grieve that fact 12 years after retiring. But with the kids I worked with, I hope I made a difference."


The impact of child sexual abuse is never-ending. It's something that has long-reaching effects, a trauma that ebbs and flows throughout the rest of the survivor's life. 

And the consequences also extend to those in the orbit of that individual as well.

Julia's brother was only nine when his sister was raped.


"He was told to take care of his little sister," Julia said. "We don't have a close relationship, my brother and I. He never wanted to look backwards, and struggled to talk about what had happened. We all have different ways of coping with trauma - and I have to respect that's his journey."

As for Julia's aunt, their relationship never recovered either. Even after the rape, Julia continued to be sent to stay with her aunt, and often felt uncomfortable. Her aunt never expressed any remorse for what had happened, never even acknowledged the sexual assault. 

"She was always angry. It was a strange atmosphere. I chose not to invite her to my first wedding after she said something along the lines of 'I hope you don't change your husbands as often as you change your jobs'," Julia said.

Six months after Julia's father passed away, the aunt took her own life. 

Julia is open about the fact that she herself has tried to end her life on four occasions.

Around the time of her medical retirement, Julia was diagnosed with complex PTSD. Recently, she was also diagnosed with dissociation, which is a stress response to the mind's way of coping with an intensely traumatic experience. It's a diagnosis she is pleased to have confirmed, as it helps her understand herself and her brain more.

"The brain is such a complex thing - for so long I had my trauma medicalised without addressing the root of the problems. By looking at the impact of trauma on the developing brain, I've come to better understand my own struggles. And there's power in that," Julia said.


Today at age 75, Julia found the right psychologist for her. She is in a much better place mentally, writing a memoir about her life and is a strong advocate for the Blue Knot Foundation - the national centre of excellence for complex trauma.

Julia is also one of the strongest people I have met. She is someone who is a joy to talk with and radiates warmth, despite the subject matter of our conversation often being focused around such a dark moment of her life. 

For the last 10 years, Julia has been with her partner Ross, who she credits for bringing balance and love back into her life. Plus, her two dogs round out their family of four.

Julia with her partner Ross. Image: Supplied.


"My partner walks alongside me - and that means the world. He had no prior experience really of dealing with someone traumatised like me, and it's not easy, as I can be pretty reactive. But he holds me emotionally, and we take care of one another. And to have enormous, deep love and affection - plus respect and trust - I don't take that for granted."

They're powerful words for Julia, considering she isn't usually one to speak on emotion. 

She's more analytical in a way, and her psychologist has said that the way Julia intellectualises everything is a byproduct of the abuse she experienced - a way to emotionally disconnect from that seven-year-old girl. Because traumatised children often grow into traumatised adults. 

As Julia said: "For me this abuse is a life sentence. It's how I deal with it that matters. But I'm not a victim, nor do I want to be seen like one. There's far more to me than just that."

It's for this reason why Julia has decided to share her story - to show her strength and to make those who have experienced similar circumstances feel less alone. 

Sitting with Julia in the Mamamia office, the two of us have talked for hours. And as we reached the end of our interview, I asked her if she ever finds it emotionally draining to speak about this subject matter. 


"It's a strange combination of energising me and leaving me exhausted from anxiety. At 75, I've got a lot of stories to tell. And it feels like I can finally speak and feel validated. This is an opportunity to educate, but also one to provide my younger self a voice. Because she didn't have one for decades."

As Julia said, there's strength in sharing her story.

"I want to 'make noise' like Grace Tame. So many of us who are survivors of child sexual assault, we live behind a mask, presenting a different face to the world. But now I want to show the real Julia - because that's how you connect with other people. It's time for me to take my own mask off - I'm ready for people to know who I really am."

If you would like to get in touch with Julia, you can send an email to which Mamamia will then pass on to Julia.

If this brings up any issues for you, contact Bravehearts, an organisation dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse, on 1800 272 831.

For help and support for those with complex trauma, the Blue Knot Foundation is there to help. Blue Knot Helpline and Redress Support Service provides specialist trauma counselling to adult survivors of childhood trauma including child sexual abuse. 

Feature Image: Supplied.