For a long time, 62-year-old Alstonville grandmother Jan McMullen tried to forget she had been sexually abused as a child. However, there came a time when she could no longer deny the feelings of anger and betrayal, but thanks to local charity Heartfelt House, she has not only faced her fears and overcome them, but now hopes to help others do the same.
Speaking on Monday during the first birthday celebrations of Heartfelt House (a charity which helps adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse heal their emotional wounds) Jan said she is now looking forward to becoming a group supporter.
I wanted to help others because I know what theyre going through, Jan said. It can affect your life so much.
Jan completed Heartfelt Houses initial group program Taking the First Steps last year and is now participating in the follow-up Beyond Survival course.
Jan said she had lived with the ordeal of her own childhood sexual abuse till she gave birth to a daughter in 1975.
Before that I knew it had happened but I was always able to put it out of my mind... it started to really affect me when my first daughter was born, so I told my husband, she said. I didnt tell my children till about 15 years ago. I felt they had a right to know it explained my sensitivities and reactions to things, and they were all very understanding.
She said while her children and husband stood by her every step of the way, it was a huge relief to talk with others who could not just empathise, but actually understand her pain. She said working in a group was much better than one-on-one counselling.
I needed that contact I never really faced up to the issue till I was in the group, Jan said. I felt so much better confronting it rather than burying it.
Heartfelt House executive officer Vicki Hamilton, a childhood sexual abuse survivor herself who gave up a job as a draftsperson to establish Heartfelt House last year, said the local communitys support had made her vision for a nurturing space possible.
She thanked organisations such as Mayne Investments, the Rotary Club of Lismore West, Scope, the CWA, Quota and local Lions clubs.
She said support from all sectors of the community had been overwhelming.
At first it was only a few of us, but now we have a huge support group with a professional board, fundraising committee and facilitators, Vicki said. But were in a pothole as far as funding goes because were not a rape crisis centre and we dont deal with children sexually abused, only with adults who grow up with it.
Vicki said for far too long childhood sexual abuse has been a taboo subject.
One in three females and one in six males are affected by sexual abuse by the age of 18, which is a huge statistic, Vicki said. And its not stranger danger kids have to watch out for. Thats a bit of a myth as 80 per cent of all abuse happens in the home by people in positions of trust.
Another alarming statistic is that 87 per cent of people who abuse drugs were sexually abused as a child. Vicki said it makes little sense for governments to sink money into tackling drug and mental health issues while not addressing the underlying cause of the problem.
Heartfelt House is continuing to raise money so more adult survivors can join a group and begin their journey of healing. The next fundraising night is called A Night in Paradise at the Lismore Workers Club on May 18.
Its a tropical fiesta featuring professional Polynesian dancers, a delicious dinner and great music. The cost is $25 per person and tickets can be booked on 6628 8940.
For membership enquiries or to donate, call the above number or write to Heartfelt House at PO Box 904, Alstonville, NSW, 2477.
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