real life story: my daughter and her assault

31 Aug 2018

Lee Anne, SA

When my daughter Megan was 11 she was indecently assaulted by a man when we were out at the shops. I was at the shop next door, getting photos processed. I left Megan and her three brothers in the toy aisle of a shop. Her brothers left her in the aisle and this man approached her and touched her. It was of course terrifying for her and completely freaked her out. For the year after that we got through it with Megan by supporting her and talking through it. But she was very timid in public, especially out at the shops.

Time started to heal the wounds, but then three years late she was out for a bike ride with her grandpa and thought she saw the man again. And then things got worse again. She wouldn't go outside by herself – even to just grab something from the car. She didn't feel safe in her own neighbourhood. When we did go out as a family, she was terrified.

She clung to me all the time and was terrified of older men. We went to the police and asked them where we could get help – and eventually we ended up at headspace Noarlunga.

To be honest I thought that, as a parent, I had been through life and could use what I'd learnt and experienced to equip my child with the knowledge and skills that she needed. But this experience has taught me that you don't always have all the tools to be able to help your child through a difficult time. I didn't know if I was helping as much as she needed. I was devastated that I didn't have the answers.

My husband is the local pastor and we've had a lot of support from our friends and community – we had a lot of people that we could talk to. But, as one would expect, if you haven't been through something like this yourself, or been trained to deal with it, it's really hard to help someone when your own tool belt is empty. For a while I blamed myself, thinking that I should never have let them go, and then this wouldn't have happened. I feel responsible, but I also know that you can't wrap your children in cotton wool. headspace has helped her develop the tools she needs to navigate life. They worked with her to figure out what steps she needed to take in order to feel safe again in public places like the shops. And her homework is to put these steps in place. It's taken a while, but now she can go into a shop (with me sitting outside) and be in there for ten minutes – focusing on the panic that she feels and letting it sit – rather than just pushing it away. That's real progress.

I was relieved to have help in a situation that looked like it wasn't going to be resolved. But now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it's exciting to realize that my daughter can have her life back again. They helped her to realize that not everyone is out to hurt others and she can feel safe but aware outside her home. It's going to take a while, but she'll get there. I'm quietly hopeful for the future.

Megan's story

I've loved how headspace didn't push me and they understood everything that I told them. When you've had something like this happen, you don't want people to judge you. Praying has also been a really big help for me.

With my counsellor at headspace we talked about what happened and came up with a plan to put me back in the shopping centre where it happened and let my body get used to being there – and not to feel like I'm in danger. And I can feel the change – I used to be so afraid. I would get shortness of breath and dizziness, and butterflies in my tummy. And there were a couple of times where I saw someone who looked like the man and I just broke down. But now I can go into a shop by myself for almost 10 minutes, which is progress. I still feel the anxiety, but I know how to manage it.