Warning: the content in this post is at times graphic and may be disturbing.
Amanda* turned off the light to leave her daughter’s bedroom. She closed the door quietly and held her breath for the time it took to reach the bathroom. Through the hall. To the bedroom. To the ensuite. With the door closed behind her, the then-27-year-old curled up in a foetal position and “cried her guts out” on the white tiled bathroom floor. The nightly routine of bedtime had recently become unbearable.
Little by little, her 10-year-old daughter Casey* had been revealing to her mother the extent of the abuse she suffered at the hands of Amanda’s ex-boyfriend, Mark.
Casey told her mum she missed Mark. She didn’t want him to get in trouble. It was her, Casey’s job, she told Amanda, to protect the man in his 20s who’d sexually abused her between the ages of seven and nine.
It was usually after school, while Amanda was at work, when Mark touched Casey. Later, the 10-year-old would be able to tell police the exact time of the offences, because she remembered hearing the Play School theme music and wishing she was watching the show.
Casey’s revelation was the devastating piece of a puzzle Amanda had been praying didn’t exist. She had worried for 12 months, through a gruelling police investigation into Mark’s use of online child sex abuse material, that she would find out her own daughter had been abused by the man she invited into their home. And it was true. Her ex partner had sexually abused her little girl.
The timeline for discovering your partner is a child sex abuser can be hard to pin down. Often, it emerges slowly, devastatingly over a period of time. For Amanda, it started with the discovery of a photograph on Mark’s phone. The girl’s skirt was pulled up, her underpants were on the floor and her vagina was exposed.
Later, Amanda would learn the girl in the photo was the seven-year-old daughter of their next door neighbours. She went to the police and they found more images, as well as messages with a distributor of child sex abuse material. Ever since that first photograph, the question had been a constant echo; had he touched my daughter?
Dating Mark had been a “decision”. It wasn’t a love-at-first-sight runaway romance for Amanda. It was logical and considered and realistic and everyone thought she was making the smartest decision she’d ever made.
Her relationship with her ex – Casey’s father – had been volatile. She had been “beaten down” physically and emotionally and Mark was someone completely different. She knew him from school and, when she ran into him unexpectedly in a shopping centre car park, he was what she remembered: “Sweet with a sense of humour. Very respectful, and very polite.”
Amanda was careful because of Casey. Sometimes she would test Mark by leaving the lounge room and watching from the kitchen how he behaved with her then six-year-old daughter. “I was a mum first, and I had to be careful with the man I was bringing into our life. I wanted to do the best by her,” she said.