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"You're a mistake." From the moment I was born, my mum refused to even look at me.

This post discusses sexual abuse and suicidal thoughts. It may be triggering for some readers. 

"It’s a Girl"— Three Words That Changed Everything. 

Speaker. Anti-Human Trafficking Ambassador. Social Worker. Public Servant. These are some of the titles that people know me by. But not many know my real story. To be honest, when I first spoke with Jas about being part of ‘Reasons to Live,’ I felt excited, yet at the same time, very nervous. Sharing our life stories can be confronting, and at first it certainly was for me, but I’m so glad to be stepping out in courage and doing so. I know that if my story can help change another person’s life, then it will have been worth it.

The truth is, the life I once lived was very different to the one I do today. As the youngest daughter of a Chinese family growing up under Singapore’s Two Child Policy in the 1970s, I was viewed as a disappointment from the very start. 

I’ve been told my mother was so despondent that she didn’t even want to look at me after my birth. For no other reason than my biological sex, I was unwanted and unloved. Had it not been for my grandmother I’m not sure where I’d be. She was the only one who cared about me as a human being worthy of love, and despite her old age and lack of resources, she refused to abandon me. From those first few days I was treated as her own flesh and blood and loved unconditionally. It is this love that kept me alive long enough to now tell my story in full.

Though she did all she could, unfortunately, Grandma’s resilience wasn’t enough to keep me safe from many of the dangers awaiting vulnerable young girls in our town. Often she would be out of the house, trying to find ways to provide for us, and it was during this time that one of my neighbours began to sexually abuse me. 

At just seven years of age I didn’t yet have the words to understand what was happening to me. But I knew I was scared; that the things being done to me didn’t feel good. I wanted so desperately to make it stop, but who could I tell? Other kids had loving parents to run to and ask questions of... But I didn’t.

Every night in bed I would try my hardest to push away the thoughts that rushed into my mind; confusing, scary words from the man who was abusing me.

You’re such a naughty girl Christine. Just be a good girl.

This is our secret, okay? Don’t tell anyone or I’ll have to punish you. Next time you do something bad, Jesus is going to come and take you away to hell. You’ll never see anyone again. 

Do you want that to happen?

With determination, I’d press my eyelids shut tightly, hoping to fall into a deep sleep. But I rarely could. As a little girl, his threats were terrifying. I didn’t want to be punished; not by Jesus or anyone.

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Although I couldn’t open up to my birth parents about what was happening, that didn’t mean I had no contact with them. As a traditional Catholic, my grandma insisted it was important that I have a relationship with my mother, and so, despite the mental and verbal abuse I continued to try my best. But it was never enough. No matter what I did, she just couldn’t see past the fact that I was a girl. “

"You’re a mistake — you may as well have been picked up from the garbage,” she’d sneer. “I wish you were never born.”

I remember a day when I was around nine, where my mother’s work colleague gave birth to a baby boy. We were all sitting in the car together, looking down at this tiny swaddled newborn, when my mother turned and grinned at her friend. “I am so happy for you!” she proclaimed loudly. “Your child has a penis — not like mine. Mine is just a waste of space and rice.” 

That moment has stayed with me ever since; a memory so vivid and deeply ingrained, that I can still feel the pain. Why? I wanted to ask. I’m your own flesh and blood, your child. Why do you treat me this way?

You might be wondering what life was like for my elder sister, since the act of being a girl was so despised. This was another layer of trauma in my life, as her experience was the complete opposite to mine. Everything she wanted, she received. Every school play she performed in, my parents attended. No matter how small the role was, they were there. Yet, even when I was the lead, they never came. As you can imagine, it’s no surprise that we didn’t get along.

Often, my sister just echoed back whatever she heard from my mother. “You’re such a waste Christine. You must have been picked up from the rubbish dump.”

As lonely and confusing as my childhood was, it was the teenage years that were the hardest. Now in her seventies, Grandma was struggling more than ever to provide for us. Every day I’d sift through my small pile of hand-me-down clothes, searching for the shirt or pants that had the least number of holes. Then I’d go to school, where I’d be bullied and isolated further.

Being a small, skinny dark girl, I was often singled out by the bullies as ‘that Ethiopian girl,’ or ‘Christine the Somalian.’

Whenever things went missing in class, girls would yell out, “Hey teacher, why don’t you check Christine’s bag? She’s so poor — I bet you she was the one who took it.” In the end, these girls were so influential that I didn’t have any friends to confide in. Some kids liked me, but they were too afraid to stick around because it would have only resulted in them being bullied too.

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Not long after I turned fifteen, my life was once again turned upside down. By now, Dad’s alcoholism and gambling had spiralled so deeply out of control, that he found himself in a very serious situation. And there was only one asset that he could still sell in order to get out of debt: the unit my Grandma and I lived in. The one place I could call home.

On that day, as I learned the full gravity of the situation, my body began to shake. We weren’t just losing our home; I was also losing Grandma. In her elderly age, she had no option other than to move in with her brother, and sadly, there was no room for me. “Please, Grandma,” I begged. “Please let me come and stay with you. I’ll sleep on the floor. Please, please don’t leave me.” With tears, she held my hands and shook her head sadly. I begged and begged, but there was nothing she could do.

The decision had been made for us by Dad’s gambling and I was all out of options. There was no other choice. I would have to move back home with my mother.

Watch: Teachers reveal the worst comments parents have ever made. 


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The Beginning Of a New Nightmare.

The day soon arrived. With a small pile of bags at my feet and a tangible spike of fear deep inside my belly, I stood on the steps of my mother’s apartment. As she opened the door, I got a small taste of what I’d be in for over the next three years. 

“When your father and I got divorced, you were supposed to be in his custody,” she hissed. “You’re only here because he’s so fucking useless that he can’t look after you himself. Don’t forget that. Once you step into this house, you better listen and do everything I tell you.”

The next few years were a living nightmare. The abuse was so utterly relentless that I couldn’t see a way through it. Some nights I would crawl into the shower, filled with fear and bruised from the incessant physical beatings, and cry until no tears were left. Every day at school I was bullied mercilessly, and when I returned home, my mother picked up where the bullies had left off. (“Get out of my face!” “I can’t stand the sight of you.” “You should never have been born.” “Just go and die. Just go and die!”) On and on it went until she got tired and went to bed. But there was no chance to rest, because once she was asleep I had homework to take care of. Whenever I crawled into bed, her words would set themselves to replay; an endless soundtrack of hatred and loathing. Even when sleep did come, the voices never subsided.

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Some nights, I’d wake in a cold sweat to a piercing, terrifying shriek that filled the air. A sound that frightened me so much I could hardly bear to listen to it. Heart racing, I’d shoot up in bed and look around for the person screaming. But the room was empty; there was no one there.

The person screaming was me.

A Window Of Hope.

I was seventeen now, almost a young woman, and after years of endless torture I was at breaking point. I was so desperate that I went to the one person I felt might still be able to help: my father. 

“Dad, I can’t take this anymore,” I sobbed. “Please help me.” But he simply stared back, his face calm and blank, seemingly unaffected by the ripples my words made as they skipped between us like stones on a lake. “Why won’t you help me?” I screamed. “Don’t you care if she kills me? Don’t you care if I die?”

My father looked at me for a few moments and then, as if I hadn’t even been there, turned and walked away. All alone, with tears streaming down my face, I stood watching as he disappeared into the night. To this day, I will never understand why or how he could do that to his own child; but there are some things we will just never know.

Shortly afterwards my mother sent me out to ‘earn my keep’ as a data entry clerk at a local property management facility. While other kids were enjoying their school holidays, I was working. There were a lot of tradies who worked in this company, and often I was surrounded by adult men. One day, after attending a work Christmas dinner, one of the men offered to drive me and another girl home. I had no other way of getting back to my mother’s apartment, so I accepted. For the most part, the ride was uneventful. He dropped my co-worker off and then headed toward my mother’s. We were almost home when, without warning, he pulled the car off the road and nestled it away from the view of passing vehicles. Once again, I was taken back to those terrifying days and nights as a little girl. Taken back to a moment in time that I never wanted to go back to. Why was this happening? Why was everyone so intent on hurting me?

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Afterwards, I went quietly to my room and slipped into bed.

As you can probably guess, I never told my mother about the sexual assault. There was nothing I could possibly say that would make any difference. Who would believe me anyway?

Sadly, my shame and feelings of being all alone were only further reinforced when, several weeks later, I decided to make an official report. Sadly, the people I relied on to protect me — our local police — did not. Shortly after opening an ‘investigation,’ they advised me to let things go. Apparently my abuser had told them that I was a troublemaker who was trying to extort money out of him, and that I’d made up the sexual assault story as punishment.

I was devastated. Wasn’t the law supposed to help those in need? I wondered. How could they do this? To make matters worse, because I was still underage, they also informed my mother about the investigation. In an instant, everything became ten times worse. “Christine, you are nothing but a troublemaker,” she seethed. “And even if what they say is true, you’re no more than a whore. Why don’t you just die already?”

It was on this day, with my mother screaming and taunting me to ‘fuck off and never come back,’ that I walked to the 13th floor of our apartment block and opened the nearest window. I was broken. I was tapped out. I couldn’t bear another moment of this life. Running my fingers along the windowsill, I made my decision and leaned forward.

And then, suddenly, a voice shattered through the silence. “Christine, stop!”

Before I could move another inch, a small, familiar hand closed over my shoulder, yanking me violently backwards. As I collapsed against her bony chest, I allowed myself to break completely. To disappear into my safe space, and the only loving arms I’d ever known. Looking down at me, Grandma held on tightly, whispering fiercely into my hair. “Your life is precious, Christine. Don’t just throw it away, child.”

It was a miracle that Grandma found me at the window that day. As I would later discover, she had decided to come round to see me after hearing about what had happened with the police. She knew that things in my life were pretty bad, but it wasn’t until this moment that Grandma finally realised how dark things had become. For months she had watched on powerlessly as I’d walked to her house in the middle of the night, crying and begging for help after my mother had — once again — thrown me out. But there had only been so much she could do. Now, she saw the truth; if nothing changed I would not survive another day.

Somehow, Grandma found the money to rent a tiny one bedroom flat for the two of us. It wasn’t the safest of environments, and we had to manage the constant flow of drug dealers and addicts who came and went from our street, but it was all she could afford.

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She knew this house would help me stay alive. And that was all that mattered.

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Passport To Freedom.

It was a Tuesday afternoon and I was flicking through the thick creamy pages of The Merchant of Venice when I heard a gentle voice calling to me from the library doorway.

“Hi Christine, how are things?”

In surprise I turned to see my literature teacher Mr Brian standing beside me, a flash of concern passing across his features. Unsure how to respond, I found myself unable to speak. Compassion was an emotion so foreign to me, that I could barely imagine someone — let alone a teacher — truly caring.

“Christine, I know you may not feel like this is true, but I want you to know something,” he began, looking down at the pile of books on my desk. “You’re not stupid. I can see how hard you work and I know you have a lot of potential. Remember that your education is your passport out of your current situation, so please, don’t give up. Whatever is going on in your life, this,” he said, gesturing at the book in front of me, “is what will give you the life you want.” Then, quietly, he walked away.

Though many years have passed, I’ve never forgotten this moment. Mr Brian was a true God-send; and at times I’ve called him my real life angel. He helped me to realise the importance of my education and to tackle it with new determination. To use it as a healthy coping mechanism; a way of distracting myself from the dark thoughts in my head. Thanks to him, I not only finished high school, but I also did something I never expected — I went on to achieve a Diploma in Human Resources, followed by a Degree in Business Management, and eventually a Masters in Social Work, Counseling, and Public Policy.

I was on the cusp of living a life that I’d never dreamed possible, and it all came back to this moment of kindness from a teacher. 

One person who showed me that maybe, just maybe, life could be more than one of pain and fear.

The Journey From Victim To Thriver.

Today, I reflect on how far I’ve come and the woman I’ve grown into. I’ve gone from being a girl who was filled with hopelessness, to becoming a social change advocate and a voice for our most oppressed. I’ve worked with leaders such as Senator Bob Corker (bringing to fruition ‘The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015), and was also involved in a legislative working group that presented recommendations to President Jimmy Carter, at ‘The World Summit: End Sexual Exploitation 2025.’ 

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As part of this, I provided consultation services to several anti-human trafficking organisations and individuals (including Mrs Martin Luther King Jr III) on how to be more efficient, and effective, in their operations. 

Since coming home, I’ve assisted with the development of several legislative Bills developed to prevent child sex offenders from leaving Australia to engage in child sex tourism, and am also a board member for Project Respect, a Victorian charity that supports women trafficked for sexual exploitation and women in the sex industry. 

I look after my wellbeing by choosing to have minimal interaction with my parents. The fact that they have been so toxic means that I cannot keep them in my life.

Mental health is an area that I feel so strongly about, particularly as I (like every human) still struggle with many personal challenges and traumas. But when I’m at my lowest, I remind myself that life is like a marathon. It’s long, and at times it feels never ending, but if I keep putting one foot ahead of the other and don’t give up, I’ll eventually cross the finish line. 

If you’re struggling, let someone help. Let someone in. Don’t feel weak for getting a mental health care plan and setting up a counseling appointment. Asking for help does not mean you aren’t strong. In fact, it shows how much courage you have! Speaking personally, it is so much easier when you are doing life together and not on your own. My healing journey was not an overnight one, but I did seek professional help, and over time things really did get better. Please know it is okay to talk about how you are feeling and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Join me in speaking up about depression and trauma; about healthy coping mechanisms and therapy. Let’s start having these conversations. As they say: “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step.” I hope my story encourages you to take that first step, in faith and in hope, towards the light. 

With love, Christine.

The above is an edited extracted of Christine Teo's story, featured in the best-selling series ‘Reasons to Live One More Day, Every Day’ (Volume 3) by Jas Rawlinson. Order your copy here.

Feature Image: Supplied.