The heartbreaking diary of a mum supporting her two young daughters through a sexual abuse trial has been released and it makes for harrowing reading.
The diary, by Michelle Milthorpe from Albury, NSW, was written in the five weeks she was in Sydney where her daughters Pippa Milthorpe, then 11, and Rose Milthorpe, then seven, had to give evidence against the man who sexually abused them.
Eventually the accused was found guilty of six counts of aggravated indecent assault against Pippa, but other charges against Rose and two other children were dropped. But despite the partial conviction the family was left broken by the very system that was supposed to protect them.
Justice shouldn’t hurt, but for children in Australia, it does. The NSW government knows how to fix this problem, but has failed to do so. That’s why news.com.au is calling for law reform to make it easier for child victims of sexual abuse to give evidence. Join the movement and sign the petition here.
“My children are being forced to retail abuse from over two and a half years ago, because of delays in the system. They have been unable to move on and begin healing because the system that is meant to protect them, is instead perpetuating the abuse,” Michelle wrote.
“Had I known what I know now, I don’t think I could have put my beautiful girls through this.”
It was October 2013 when Michelle’s youngest child Rose, then five, disclosed that she was being abused by a family friend they trusted. She and husband Brent soon discovered that their middle daughter Pippa, then eight, was also being abused.
They reported the abuse to the police and waited for the justice system to kick into action – but over two years later they were still waiting to go to court.
When the court case came it was more painful than the Milthorpe family could ever have imagined, as detailed in Michelle’s harrowing diary:
Pippa and Rose, now aged 17 and 14, are sharing their story so they can change the system that harmed them so much.
“My experience with the court system was quite traumatic,” Pippa says. “I was under questioning for five days. I couldn’t understand half the language that was used. It was very scary, especially as an 11-year-old talking to mature adults that you’ve never met before about something that personal.”
News.com.au is proud to stand with the Milthorpe family and our exclusive Justice Shouldn’t Hurt campaign is pleading with the NSW Attorney-General, Mark Speakman, to expand the Child Sexual Offense Evidence Scheme, a program designed to make court less traumatic for children.
To present the program is only available in two locations: Sydney and Newcastle, yet an investigation by news.com.au reveals that up to 96 per cent of the state’s children who may have need of the program are not eligible to access it.
“We know that it is a program that is set up to help kids in court make it easier for the way they give evidence and the way they are cross-examined,” Pippa says.
“It’s done over a much quicker time frame, so it’s not so long sitting around and waiting and having to relive memories.
“It’s pretty much giving your interview to the police and then within six months, it’s all put together and that’s what goes to court. So it’s not as traumatizing and you’re not stuck in a victim state. You can begin to heal and move on.”
When approached by news.com.au, Mr Speakman recognized the trauma child sexual abuse victim-survivors go through and that court can be re-traumatizing. However, he did not commit to extending the program to be available to rural children.
“The NSW Government continues to look to expand the program’s reach across the state. In the meantime, at courts where it is not operating, statewide measures which go some way to mitigating re-traumatisation for children,” Mr Speakman said.
After spending six years writing to the Attorney-General pleading for the program to be expanded to all children, Michelle says now is the time for the NSW Government to step up and protect all kids, not just city kids.
“Why isn’t it being rolled out to every child in NSW?” Thanks Michelle. “That’s not fair for country kids. It’s not fair that children are not treated equally. They have already been through the worst experience, they should not be traumatized further by the legal system.”
Nina Funnell is a Walkley Award winning journalist and sexual assault survivor advocate who has created the Justice Shouldn’t Hurt Campaign in exclusive partnership with news.com.au.
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