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To everyone else he was a hero. But behind closed doors...

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WARNING: This post may be distressing for someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse or violence. 

By KATE SMITH

Every year as Anzac Day draws near sadness engulfs me, an overwhelming sadness triggered by talking to friends who march for their forefathers, cheer their family on as they march, or simply commemorate and pay tribute to their fallen loved ones.

I can’t do that. I don’t speak about my grandfather who fought for England in the war, and who proudly wore badges of bravery.

No.

The fact is I despise him and I despise the fact he wore bravery badges.  My stomach churns to think he was honoured in so many facets of life, while behind closed doors he sexually abused me, tortured me and took away my honour for so many years.

It has been a life time of pain, dotted with anger, violence, drug use, anorexia, abusive relationships and the poorest of self esteems. My parents divorced because of me, they couldn’t explain my dysfunction, and blamed each other. And that’s a guilt I’ll carry forever.

No one suspected him, no one even looked his direction. But why would they? He could do no wrong, and the family had a culture of placing him on a pedestal without questioning him.

Today I am better than good. I’m thriving – not just surviving. I will always refuse to let my grandfather tarnish the honour of those that truly deserve it, but seeing those medals will always cause me pain, and provide a reminder that honour is not drawn from the medal but from the person beneath. The ugly part for me is that medals and honour can be a mask for evil of the very worse kind.

'I told no one of the abuse as I didn't want to break my family's hearts'.
‘I told no one of the abuse as I didn’t want to break my family’s hearts’.
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Every year I honour the fallen Australians with such pride and appreciation for the freedoms they gave this great country, but I shy away from talking about it. I avoid conversation – anything to stop the reflection on my own family. Anzac Day is so important to me that I plan to travel to Turkey for the 100th year commemoration, but at the same time it reminds me to beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the need for others to take heed of that message.

When I was 9 and he first abused me, my grandfather was the revered patriarch of our family. No one said a bad word against him, and he was cherished like a god.  His obvious faults became almost assets that were joked about, but in essence he could do no wrong.  Why? I have never quite worked this out, and perhaps I never will. No one saw the nine year old girl whom on Christmas Eve was raped whilst Christmas lights twinkled. The fear I felt would have been paramount to the fear of those in war, but I was a child, and this wasn’t the enemy.

He was meant to be my protector.

So many people reading would assume, as is often the case, that I never spoke up because I probably thought no one would believe me. But this was absolutely not true!  I told no one he abused me because I didn’t want to break my family’s hearts, I didn’t want to destroy the vision they had of this man. I loved my family so much I didn’t want them to hurt. I was willing to take the pain, hurt and being abused because I thought I was sacrificing myself for the love of my family. Control of the victim comes in many unique and different forms.  I was quite happy for my family never to know, and think of my grandfather as the hero he wasn’t, for the sake of their happiness.

It didn’t turn out like that and when my grandfather diedthe secrets came out. My family finally knew he had sexually abused me. My soul burned for my family, and I reflected on how a man could live behind such honour, trust and respect when he deserved none of it. I watched my family crumble when they realised what they should have seen and blamed themselves. I could have gone to my grave without them ever knowing I’d been abused, I wanted to protect them. How the truth was revealed is another story for another day.

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lost childSexual abuse gets hidden in many ways. The relative you trust the most, who does the most for you, becomes your child’s best friend, your best friend. Or in my case the man who was the honoured war hero. The respected, commemorated family man. When in reality he was a child abuser who used his fake honour, medals and status to destroy much of my life, and that of my beautiful family.

We don’t talk about him now. There are no photos of him anywhere. My aunt even cut out his head from photos and left everyone else there. On Anzac Day we don’t really talk.  I feel sad about this…so many have fought and have well-deserved honour, I hope one day my heart only feels pride for our fallen Australians and those that have fought and returned to lead meaningful lives.

Simultaneously I think beware, beware of giving anyone that much honour that you don’t pick up the signs, you don’t see the truth. It could be a priest, teacher, politician, family member or perhaps rock star. Whoever it is, beware you may be blinded by their status when the truth, although dark, needs to have the light shone on it.

I’ll be at the next dawn service, as I always am. I’ll take my child and live in hope that one year I’ll only feel pride and love for the ANZACs and will stop feeling a direct correlation between the sight of a medal and self loathing, an unfortunate Rembrandt left over for most abuse survivors.

If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114.

Kate writes under her partner’s surname to again shield her family for any further grief. Kate has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and  supervises a team of Social Workers in South Australia, within the child protection sector.  Kate’s aim is to educate the community of the signs of abuse and how to protect children. Predators of our children come in all forms, and are usually the most trusted, it’s how they do it.

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