Warning: This story contains references to sexual abuse and suicide.
THE conviction of Cardinal George Pell on child sexual assault charges has sickened the nation this week. For parents, it’s a chilling reminder that danger can lurk in seemingly innocent places.
NSW mum Missy Cooper understands better than most the devastation that child sexual abuse can unleash. It’s the reason she breaks out in a sweat when her son is invited to a sleepover or a kind man at the shop offers her daughter a lollipop.
Her father, Dr Stuart Kidd, was repeatedly raped as a young boy by carers his parents trusted to keep him safe while they worked. Sadly the torture only ended when he took his life in May last year.
After suffering years of unimaginable abuse, Dr Kidd bravely wrestled his demons for many decades. He was a wonderful man who gave so much to society. An orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Kidd built houses for orphans in Uganda, operated alongside Fred Hollows, played the grand piano in the Sydney Opera House and performed emergency caesareans in third world countries.
An amazing man
But for Mrs Cooper, he was simply dad. The man who had always provided for her. The one who walked her down the aisle. The enthusiastic supporter who made her laugh and shared encouraging words.
“He was an amazing man, the best daddy, a doting grandfather. He loved us so much, but inside he was broken. He tried so hard to heal, he was a doctor, he knew how to get help. But the mental torment of what those monsters did to him never let up,” Mrs Cooper said.
“He had terrible flashbacks that left him curled in a corner, weeping like the five-year-old boy he had been at the time of the attacks. My mum was always by his side but no-one could save him. It was devastating for all of us that a man so brilliant could be so tortured.”
The abuse might stop but the scars remain
Mrs Cooper said her heart broke when she read a statement from Cardinal Pell’s victim (whose name has been suppressed) this week. He spoke of a lifetime of “shame, loneliness, depression and struggle”, the same battles she witnessed her father wrestle.
“There’s a sense that because the abuse happened so long ago, it doesn’t have such an impact on the victim’s life anymore. But for many, the pain just doesn’t end. It is hard to imagine the trauma and how many areas of your life it can affect. It’s just brutal,” Mrs Cooper said.
“There’s so much guilt and shame involved in childhood sexual abuse. Men especially are expected to be tough and to bury their feelings, that’s why the research shows it takes on average 20 years for men to come forward and tell their story. And then so often, no-one believes them.
“At times dad called himself a monster, though he was anything but. He was the gentlest man you’d ever met. He worried that his torment was affecting us and vowed that the scars of the evil inflicted on him would not poison another generation.
“For a while I thought suicide was selfish, but I understand so much better now. I just wish he was here to see his grandchildren grow up, my son is so much like him and we miss him terribly. But we are the survivors now and our story is not over yet, we want to help others tell their stories, ones that desperately need to be heard.”
The Gogglebox experience
Dr Kidd was also intent on ensuring men affected by sexual abuse were given a voice. He was a much-loved character on reality tv show Gogglebox and later told his heart-wrenching story on the ABC series You Can’t Ask That.
Series producer Aaron Smith applauded Mr Kidd’s authenticity and willingness to bare his soul as he captured the hearts of viewers.
“We were struck by his honesty, openness, strength and resolve in dealing with traumatic childhood experiences,” Mr Smith said.
“Stuart’s contribution will have a lasting and profound impact on the audience, helping to reduce stigma and increase awareness and understanding for survivors of sexual assault.”
Let’s keep the conversation going
Mrs Cooper is passionate about educating parents on how to help prevent sexual abuse.Her advice to parents includes:
- Have the uncomfortable discussions with your kids.
- Talk to them about their private parts. About who is allowed to touch and who isn’t and why.
- Make sure they know how to talk about their bodies confidently – they are called penises and vaginas not willies and yonis.
- Remind them you will never get angry at them for telling the truth if something bad has happened EVEN if it is their fault. Obviously, abuse is not their fault, but kids can be made to feel like it is, and that’s when things get very dangerous.
Mrs Cooper said while it is essential to teach children about ‘stranger danger’, keeping the channels of communication open was the best way to protect them.
“While it’s important to tell your kids about who the ‘safe adults’ are, sadly it’s often the people closest to your kids who are the perpetrators. Trusted relatives, children’s workers, and even as we’ve been reminded this week, priests. You can never be too careful.”
“That’s why it is so important that you talk, talk, talk to your kids. And listen hard to what they say. If they know they can tell you anything, you can protect them, but if they stay silent like my dad felt forced to, you can’t help them.”
Also don’t ask kids to keep secrets, surprises are fine, but secrets can be part of a grooming process.
Mrs Cooper has joined forces with Survivors and Mates Support Network (SAMSN) to raise funds for sexual abuse recovery. For more information go to www.samsn.org.au or call helpline 1800 4 SAMSN.