I regret trusting my best friend with my child
REMINISCING over a glass of wine I bristled when I heard banging from the next room.
I had few opportunities to catch up with my best friend, Tanya*, and my six-year-old daughter's tantrum was ruining our last night together before we had to make the long drive back home.
"Just leave her," Tanya said. She could always pick my moods.
"She's probably just tired," I said. "We've had a busy couple of weeks!"
Tanya and I had been friends since her family moved in next door to mine in second grade. I had always wanted a sister and Tanya was an only child, so we soon became inseparable.
We had been together through her parents' divorce, high school mean girls, boyfriends, births, and even deaths. If there was anyone in this world we knew and trusted, it was each other, so when I had an opportunity to spend two weeks away for work, she was hands down my first choice for childcare. She'd looked after my daughter Hannah* while I worked, now we were heading back home and I was going to miss spending time with them.
"Mummy's talking to Aunty Tan, sweetheart, just go to sleep, we've got a big drive in the morning," I told Hannah.
Hannah threw her pillow, but despite my coaxing, she refused to tell me what was wrong. That in itself was not unusual; it can be hard to get a child to talk when they are angry, and she was always a little sad to say goodbye to her favourite aunt. I tucked her into bed and went back to my conversation.
Her mood didn't improve
Two weeks later, back at home, I noticed Hannah still wasn't herself. It wasn't like her to misbehave and she was running me ragged. When I walked in to find my favourite lipstick all over the bathroom walls I hit the roof.
"That's it," I snapped, "you have been nothing short of unbearable since I picked you up. I don't know why you're behaving like this but you can forget Ashleigh's party this weekend."
Hannah's face crumpled. As a mother, you learn to see past the crocodile tears and stick to your guns, but something about the look on her face - was it fear? - made me stop. I took her into the kitchen and made us each a hot chocolate.
"Baby, you know you can talk to me, right? About anything?"
Looking back, the silence that followed was the very last moment before everything changed.
Hannah looked away, then, almost inaudibly, "Uncle Craig did things to me."
The world came crashing down
I felt my heart crash to the floor. Craig* was Tanya's husband. They had met and married after she moved up to Queensland so although we got on well, I didn't know him like I knew her. Everything that followed was in slow motion; interviews, examinations, tears, hugs, and what seemed like a million phone calls, all before they would even think about making an arrest.
As a parent it surprised me that I was not privy to the information Hannah shared in her interviews, and but given that I would have to testify about what was disclosed to me, it made sense to keep the two accounts separate. It was also made clear that I was not to discuss the situation with anybody else, which was especially hard because my heart was breaking for Tanya who was about to find out what kind of man she had married. I wanted to be there for her, but my daughter had to come first. And then for the second time, I felt my world crumble beneath me. I had a phone call advising me that two arrests had been made in Hannah's case. Alarm bells.
Hannah never mentioned another man; why wouldn't she tell me? Only it wasn't another man.
Then a chilling realisation
This must have been a mistake. I knew Tanya. I knew her. There was no way in the world that this woman would hurt my child. I just couldn't believe it was true. But it was. It was alleged that she filmed the abuse (I have since discovered that although they couldn't prove it, the police had no doubt), but charges were dropped when Craig testified to filming it himself.
At first, I wondered if maybe she was innocent after all, but when I saw the way she supported him through the trial - despite video evidence proving that he sexually abused my child - I knew she was as guilty as him.
In the end, Craig took a plea bargain; he served just nine months behind bars with a two-year good behaviour bond and his identity has been suppressed.
I can not warn the other parents at the school where they send their kids. I can not tell their neighbours or their friends. I have learned that in cases of sexual abuse, suppression orders are pretty standard, so you really do have no way of knowing who or where these people are.
What you can do - what I beg you to do - is to talk to your kids about sexual abuse. Make sure your children know that no matter who it is, no matter what they say or do, they need to come to you. It's a difficult conversation to have, but when it comes to protecting your kids, it's worth it.
*Identifying details have been changed for legal reasons and to protect the privacy of the victim.
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