A Queensland mum-of-two has told of her years-long fight to “save” her teenage daughter from one of Australia’s most insidious problems.
WARNING: Distressing content.
Grace * has spent 15 years fighting for her daughter, and the past nine “battling to save her”.
The Queensland mum-of-two escaped nearly two decades of horrific physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse at the hands of her ex-husband in September 2012. But she continues to live in fear: for her own safety, but also for that of her eldest child, who is autistic, has “extreme emotional disregulation”, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Last November, after more than a year of being groomed on social media while using the internet unsupervised in her father’s care – resulting in her allegedly being sexually assaulted in a public toilet block by a stranger she met online – Grace’s daughter ran away from home.
Despite filing a missing person’s report, along with reports to the Department of Child Safety (DoCS) and multiple appeals to the police, Grace was told that because her daughter is 15, “she can self-place and ‘there’s nothing we can do'” .
“I have gone from one place to the other – trying desperately to get help, and no one will help me,” she told news.com.au.
Today is the first day of Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month, which is held every May to raise awareness of the impacts of violence and the support available to those affected.
What her situation boils down to, Grace said, is that the system designed to “help” families like hers is instead “so broken [that] it’s creating broken people ”.
“My daughter is broken. I’m broken. Yet they expect us – the people that are severely traumatized and have our own problems to try and navigate – to fix everything, and we just can’t”She added.
“And as a result, I’m afraid that one day I’m going to hear that car door closing, and I’ll have the police at my door saying, ‘I’m sorry, but your daughter has been found deceased’ . And it’s because nobody will do their job. The system doesn’t protect the children that desperately need it. ”
As Director of Counseling Services at Full Stop Australia, Tara Hunter, told news.com.au, children and young people are “often the silent victims of domestic and family violence”, not just “passive bystanders or witnesses”.
“There is a lot of focus on women and / or the non-offending parent and how they are keeping children safe, but this is often the voice of that parent, services and, in particular, the family law process and systems,” Ms Hunter said.
“The family law system leaves children particularly vulnerable to being a ‘pawn’ that perpetrators might use with threats of harming the children, and / or ceasing access in order to control the behavior of the victim.”
There is an increasing awareness, she explained, “that while children may not be directly targeted in the context of domestic and family violence, it has impacts on their psychological wellbeing during their childhood and into the future”.
“Some of the trauma impacts might include the development of mental health issues, sleep disturbance, learning difficulties and behavioral problems,” Ms Hunter said.
“There is also evidence that living in a domestic and family violence situation makes children [susceptible] to other forms of child abuse and neglect, including being sexually assaulted and / or using problematic and sexually harmful behaviors against other children. ”
Grace said her own daughter is a Testament to the Cognitive, developmental and emotional impacts that witnessing – and experiencing – domestic and family violence can have on a child.
“She was the sweetest little girl. Because she’s autistic, there’s always been issues, and I’m not going to detract from that – but she didn’t have such extreme difficulties until the family court made orders for her to go [her dad’s] place every other weekend and during school holidays, ”she said.
She alleges that her ex-husband was aware their daughter was being groomed online as far back as August 2020, and despite her repeated requests to prevent the teen from having access to social media while in her care, she allowed it to continue.
“People need to understand how bad the situation is – because I’m not the only one,” Grace said.
“For the last nine years, I’ve been battling to save my daughter. I’ve spent 15 years of my life fighting for her, so she wouldn’t grow up illiterate, so she would have a fantastic opportunity for a job. And what’s happened? She’s illiterate, and she’s got no prospects, because nobody would help me. ”
Asked what’s required to address situations like Grace’s, Ms Hunter said that “our Responses need to be trauma- and violence-informed – that is, take account for the impacts of trauma in the present and future”.
“[We need] service frameworks that assess for safety, ongoing risks and vulnerabilities, and acknowledges the Dynamics of coercive control and domestic and family violence, ”she said, including“ an acknowledgment that First Nations families and children experience family violence in the context of structural racism, history related to the Stolen Generations and the over-representation of Indigenous families in the child protection system ”.
“Our services and workers in this space require specialist knowledge and training in working with families and non-offending parents in a way that acknowledges efforts to keep children safe, provision of non-judicial psychological support, and child-centered interventions that provide a safe space for them to share their experiences, identify ongoing risks, and be provided with age-appropriate education to help them understand the Tactics used in coercive control and domestic and family violence, and ensure that the lens of blame remains squarely with the perpetrator of abuse . ”
Until such methods are implemented, Grace said, “I can’t see any future for my daughter.”
“Children deserve a childhood that they don’t need an entire adulthood to recover from,” she added.
“And she can’t recover from this, and that’s the problem.”
* Name has been changed
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