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Child sex abuse story triggers flashbacks

Before picking up her copy of the Richmond News, that Friday was just another day in the life of Margaret.

Before picking up her copy of the Richmond News, that Friday was just another day in the life of Margaret.

Moments later, after poring over just the first few lines of a disturbing tale on the front page about a father sexually abusing his six-year-old daughter, a tidal wave of distressing memories almost knocked Margaret off her feet.

"When I read the story, I just got all panicky and I was overcome with rage and fear," she told the News. "I got flashbacks straight away. Even though I'm getting help, this doesn't stop. It never really goes away."

More than 40 years ago, Margaret (name changed for privacy) suffered a very similar traumatic experience when aged just five.

For two whole years, she was subjected to almost routine horrific sexual abuse at the hands of an alcoholic babysitter.

And in the same way the six-year-old in the News' story divulged the molestation to her mother, Margaret finally plucked up the courage to confide in her parents at age seven.

It took another 21 years before she sought any kind of help and she still receives counseling to this day.

But she told how there are many "triggers" in her daily life - including reading similar experiences in newspapers - that rock her foundation to the core, causing deep-seated emotions to erupt to the surface.

"The injustice of what happened to this girl and the injustice of the sentence

her father received; I wanted to hurt him; I wanted to find him and get him in the same room with me," she said.

"I still suffer from post-traumatic stress. There are triggers out there. Sometimes, when I'm in the middle of the grocery store, I get a panic attack because I hear someone mention the name (of her abuser).

"It's a fairly common name, so it happens a lot. Or it might just be someone who looks like him and I instantly don't like that man; it's crazy."

Other triggers include her husband, who she's been married to for 25 years, coming home smelling of cigarettes or alcohol.

"He better not come near me if that happens," she explained, adding that her abuser all those decades ago stank of cigarettes and alcohol.

For many victims of sexual abuse in the 1970s, there wasn't a great deal of help out there.

And even if there was an extensive support structure in place, those were still the days of shameful behaviour being brushed under the carpet.

"My parents were alcoholics and it was an alcoholic friend of theirs that used to come round and babysit," recalled Margaret.

"I told my parents when I was about seven. They never said anything. But I never heard the man's name mentioned again and I never saw him again. That was the last we spoke of it.

"My older brother and sister were already taken into foster care. I'm not sure if that's why my parents dealt with it the way they did."

Such is the case with many sexual abuse victims, the truth is only set free by an event experienced later in their life.

For Margaret, it was a breakdown at work, aged 28, when her dark past came rushing up behind her.

"It caused it to all kind of come at me," she said.

"I attempted suicide soon after. From that, I was given a great family doctor who did a lot of work with people in my position; so I got lucky, I guess.

"Now, I still see a psychiatrist once a week, because I have a couple of other issues which are kind of linked to the abuse. And I go see my family doctor after each visit as well."

Now, four decades on, with all the help and support she's been getting for the last 18 years, she just about holds her life together.

Margaret, however, has no doubt that - had she received the same assistance when she first broke the news to her parents - her life would have taken a very different, less traumatic, path.

"Absolutely, I have no doubt it would have been better," she said.

"When I think of this little girl (in the News story), I really hope she is getting all the support she needs right now.

"I waited half my life to get the right help. I wished it had been sooner."

? If you, or someone you know, have been the victim of abuse, the Richmond Family Violence Prevention Network is a group of organizations able to help. Call Victim Services at 604-270-6229. In an emergency, call 911.