Elise and Rosie are learning how to trust and be safe around adults.
Trigger Warning – this story contains mentions of child sexual abuse and suicide.
Hi my name is Hope and I am a caseworker with Barnardos. I would like to share with you the story of Elise (12) and Rosie (10), two sisters in the care of Barnardos. When I first met them, the girls had just been removed from their home by child protection authorities. They were so frightened that they stood with their backs half turned, in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. Biting nits crawled through their heavily matted hair and their teeth were rotten. Their eyes were always watching warily for any sign of a raised hand. It was obvious the girls had been suffering from appalling neglect and abuse.
Neither girl had any physical boundaries around their bodies and exhibited sexualised behaviour. It was then that I began to suspect they’d also been victims of sexual abuse. I discovered that both girls had been exposed to pornography and were sometimes forced to watch their mother’s sexual activity with strangers. I’m sure from their behaviour that there are more sickening disclosures to come, but neither girl yet feels safe enough to share details of all that’s been done to them.
Tragically, children who have been sexually abused are at a much higher risk of developing serious mental health disorders. They are also 40 times more likely to die by suicide^, often turn to drug and alcohol abuse and are 88 times more likely to fatally overdose^. Without professional and targeted intervention, children who have been sexually abused all too easily fall prey to future sexual assault.
The sisters are now living with one of our short-term Barnardos foster carers and are slowly beginning to heal from the horrifying trauma they’ve endured. They are starting to feel safe and to learn how to trust and be safe around adults. But each day, I worry that Rosie or Elise might turn to self-harm or even suicide. Tragically, this is a very real risk for children who have been sexually abused. For now, the sisters are deeply relieved to be living in a clean, safe home where there is always food on the table. Neither child wants to return to a life of fighting for survival and living in a home they described to me as “a garbage bin”.
They are receiving the immediate medical and dental care they need, as well as art therapy to help them express some of their terror, grief, and pain. But the truth is that they have a long and difficult journey ahead.
With the generous support of people like you, Barnardos can help them receive the urgent psychological support they need to remain safe in the future. They’ll also get support at school so they can catch up to their peers after a life of neglected education.
Your support will help kids like Elise and Rosie on their road to recovery so they can heal from their trauma and reach their brightest future.
*Names changed and models used to protect privacy
^Australian Institute of Family Studies, CFCA Paper No. 11 The long-term effects of child sexual abuse – January 2013.