'I'm the girl that got raped': How a family coped with teenage daughter's ordeal
Sandy* is watering the garden when her husband Tony* appears, tears in his eyes, his face chalky with shock.
A police officer from the sexual offences and child abuse team in Geelong, near Melbourne, Australia, is on the phone, Tony says. It's about Amy*. The officer wants to talk to them about their 14-year-old daughter.
Sandy grabs the phone. Has Amy been hurt, she asks in desperation. The police officer says yes, she has. Is she in hospital? No. But he doesn't want to tell them much over the phone. They need to come in. Sandy is shaking so Tony drives, past the ocean with its waves heaving against the beach in their coastal town.
At the Geelong police station, Amy's parents sit down with three officers. Sandy asks if Amy has been raped. The police – quiet, gentle, direct – say yes. Tony bursts into tears and Sandy rubs his back. Amy is asleep in another room, the police tell them, with a specialist from the Centre Against Sexual Assault.
The officers ask Amy's parents about themselves. The police raise their eyebrows sympathetically when Sandy says she is a senior public servant in the Victorian government and works in the prevention of violence against women. Tony is also a public servant. Finally, the pair are taken to the room where their daughter lies.
"She woke up and it was so, so awful," says Sandy. "She was pale and fragile and had marks, bruises all over her, on her neck. She burst into tears and said 'I'm so sorry'. We told her she had no reason to be sorry, it wasn't her fault. No one had the right to touch her, no one had the right to harm her."
At a committal hearing it was alleged that Amy had been raped in the Geelong suburb of St Albans Park in the early hours of November 1, 2015.
Three men – brothers Kevin Andrew Wild, Allan Mark Wild and Brodie Mark Wild – were committed to stand trial on multiple rape and related charges on 9 June, 2016. They pleaded not guilty to all charges.
But this is not a story about what allegedly happened to Amy that night. The distressing details have been legally suppressed at her parents' urging to protect her privacy. They are also pleading with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews for legal changes that would restrict the publication of gratuitous details of sexual assaults on minors.
The trial of the three Wild brothers in Victoria's Supreme Court was discontinued on February 24 this year, when Amy and her family decided she was too distraught and vulnerable to continue.
"My sister is traumatised by what happened and would have had to relive it again on the stand, knowing every word would be scrutinised and held against her," Amy's sister said in a statement at the time.
The Wild brothers face no further charges in relation to this matter. They were contacted through their lawyers for this story, but they declined to comment.
EIGHTEEN MONTHS LATER
Almost 18 months on, it still isn't easy for Amy or her family to talk about the alleged rape. At times, Sandy and Tony have to pause. They sit in the elegant living room of the comfortable family home they share with Amy, now 16, and their older daughter.
A bowl of home-grown quinces ripen on the benchtop, and vibrant artwork hangs on the walls. Amy curls up on the sofa near them and strokes the tiny dog in her lap with her fingers. She got Freddie* for comfort. She suffers from anxiety and night terrors, so hasn't said much yet. But she will.
Despite their grief and shock, Amy and her family faced gruelling practicalities when they left Geelong police station on that November morning. A professional, empathetic female sergeant drove them to Melbourne for a forensic sexual assault examination at the Royal Children's Hospital.
Amy had never been to hospital before, had never even had broken a bone. The testing for sexually transmitted infections, HIV and pregnancy took hours. And Amy would have to return for further testing often over the coming months.
At home Amy slept, and Sandy and Tony nursed her. The deep bruises slowly faded but she still has scars. The sexual assault unit told the family to make life as normal as possible. But what was normal now?
On leave from work, Sandy and Tony watched hours of animal documentaries and cooking shows while Amy slept: anything that felt safe. Word travels fast in a small community and bunches of flowers soon appeared on their doorstep.
Sandy and Tony went to Melbourne to tell their families and close friends. "I remember crying whilst my sister held me and letting out a strange guttural, primeval cry of sorrow and pain," Sandy says.
"And there was relief that she was alive. We are so, so grateful to have her alive."
But Amy didn't feel grateful. She felt terribly, terribly guilty. She still does sometimes. On the night in question she had done what so many teens do: she told her parents she was going to a friend's house but went to a party instead. After the alleged assault, she pleaded with police not to tell her parents what had happened.
"Obviously I know it's not my fault, I'm not dumb. But I was their little girl and no one wants to put their parents through that kind of pain," she says. "Seeing your dad cry is terrible. And what happened to me made them feel like that."
Amy and her sister read the media coverage and brutal commentary on social media. "They don't know me. But they called me awful things," she says.
Poised, with a quick smile, Amy appears to be like any 16-year-old. She plans to go to university, she plays sport and has a casual job. Her fellow students have been loving and kind in the aftermath. A couple of them have confided in her about their own rapes and sexual assaults. It makes her feel less alone.
Amy's school has been amazing, Sandy says. The teachers have given her a special card to flash whenever she needs to leave class, no questions asked. But the rape has coloured every part of her life, she says. She doesn't feel like a normal teenager any more.
And it comes up in the most unexpected ways. In school, three books on her study list are about rape: To Kill a Mockingbird, Minimum of Two and A Streetcar Named Desire. It was awkward in class: "I felt as though I should be embarrassed".
THE COURT CASE
In the background, the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) was preparing its case. When Amy met with police or lawyers it often had to be done without her parents in the room, as she was a witness.
Everyone was respectful, but the lawyers still had to question her, "test her mettle" for the trial ahead. Amy was stoic, but would collapse in tears in her dad's arms afterwards.
No suppression order was in place during the bail applications, and graphic detail was aired in open court and published by the media. Again, Amy felt deeply exposed. She suffered from nightmares and had to take time off school.
"The media stuff was humiliating," says Sandy. "I've never seen her so low. It's heartbreaking to watch your vivacious child suffering."
So Sandy and Tony asked the OPP to seek suppression orders, including that articles with graphic detail be taken off news websites.
The prosecutors responded quickly and orders were made. But late at night Sandy still sat at her computer, emailing the prosecutor's office to alert them to material that remained online.
Police and lawyers warned Amy and her parents the trial would be "brutal". Amy's psychologist said it was likely it would re-traumatise her. As Amy began her Victorian Certificate of Education, the court case loomed in her mind and she feared the impact it would have on her.
"Everything I said would be scrutinised. I would be cross-examined by three different lawyers trying to get something out of me."
And the penalty was uncertain. Yes, a finding of guilt would trigger punishment. But the trial would punish her more, she says. Discontinuing the trial was not an easy decision, but was the only one she felt able to make.
Amy's family have the highest praise for the police, sex assault workers and lawyers who guided them. But they found the court process bewildering. A senior lawyer friend stepped in to guide them but not everyone is so lucky, says Tony.
"It's one of the things that upsets us the most. We're articulate, educated and tenacious and had a legal friend helping us. What about people who don't have those resources who are faced with something like this?
"Everyone should be able to easily navigate the legal system. Everyone should feel it is worth the effort of reporting and going through the process."
Amy and her family are appealing to Premier Daniel Andrews to overhaul laws and make it less traumatic for child sex assault victims to seek justice in court.
They want minors in sex assault cases to be cross-examined in front of an experienced judge, or panel of judges, rather than in front of a jury. The family also want mandatory restrictions to prevent gratuitous details of sexual assaults on minors being made public.
Amy is now looking forward to the end of high school and the anonymity of university in Melbourne. "I can't live a normal teenage life anymore. Teenagers all have their labels: the sporty girl, the party girl. I'm the girl that got raped."
*Names have been changed for legal reasons.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Rape Crisis - 0800 88 33 00 (24hr service), click link for information on local helplines
Victim Support - 0800 842 846 (24hr service)
The Harbour, online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse
Women's Refuge (Females only) - crisis line available on 0800 733 843
Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust (Males only), Helplines across NZ, click to find out more.
If you are in danger, or are being subjected to sexual violence, call 111.
- The Age