24. They are not caterpillars…
I was starting to feel like the walls were closing in on me. We were about six months After and our structured life was becoming less so. Rather than dancing and basketball, we were now attending counselling appointments. I forgot how to sleep. It’s hard to sleep after hearing some of the things that the girls told me that Leon did to them. I felt under fire by the defense solicitor and I was trying to maintain “normal”, whatever the hell that was.
I’d been speaking with my friend, Kirsten, about how difficult I was finding it and that I didn’t know if we should put the kids through a trial. I was worn out by the holding pattern that we seemed to be in, so I could only imagine their confusion. Kirsten suggested talking to a mutual friend, who like the girls, has an incredible story of survival.
I knew some of her story already, Jen had told me. Ironic really. So I asked her if she’d be okay talking through our situation with me, knowing that this could have been a potential trigger for her. She was very quick to help.
Her personal circumstances have meant that, for a variety of reasons, her tormentor’s have never been bought to justice. I asked her how she feels about that. She told me that she thinks about how that would make her feel daily. She feels that there would be a level of closure in having that opportunity; a sense of empowerment that she could feel by being able to name the abuse and say that what was done to her was wrong.
I asked her straight up if she thought that I was doing the right thing by the girls by putting them through “the system”. Their experience to date felt, to them, like they had disclosed all this information, were told that Leon was wrong for doing it and would be punished, and then…nothing. They didn’t understand that these things took time.
I remember the Detective trying to explain to Kate, who was quite indignant about the process, that it just wasn’t her turn yet. That there were many other children ahead of her and Ruby in the queue for court. It appealed to her sense of justice and there was a level of solidarity for her in knowing that he was working with other children too.
When I spoke to my friend about my concerns about the toll that waiting was having, particularly on Kate, she told me that she worried that the girls would regret it if they didn’t see the process through.
I left her feeling a renewed sense of purpose after speaking with her. I didn’t want my girls to become adults with regrets. I had the hope that if we could find a level of closure for them as young people, it might lessen the known impacts of child abuse like-
- Depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping.
- Low self esteem.
- “Damaged goods” syndrome. i.e. negative body image due to self-blame. This may be intensified if physical pain was experienced during the abusive incidents.
- Dissociation from feeling.
- Social isolation.
- Relationship problems such as an inability to trust, poor social skills or a reluctance to disclose details about themselves.
- Self destructive behaviour such as substance abuse or suicide attempts.
- Sexual difficulties such as fear of sex or intimacy, indiscriminate multiple sex partners or difficulty in reaching orgasm.
- Parenting problems such as fear of being a bad parent, or fear of abusing the child or being overprotective.
- An underlying sense of guilt, anger or loss.
- “Flashbacks” and/or panic attacks.
The reality was, we were navigating a reality that we had not prepared for and it was bloody tough.
A few weeks after speaking to this friend, a parcel came in the mail for the girls. It was a pendant for each of them of a butterfly. With it came a beautifully handwritten card praising them for their courage, bravery and strength. An offer of support in any time of need and a little proverb at the end that said:
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a beautiful butterfly”.
The symbol of the butterfly has become a symbol of hope for our family.