President of Fighters Against Child Abuse Australia, Adam Washbourne, said child abuse is still prevalent in Liverpool.
“South-west Sydney has a problem with child abuse, but you’ll find it wherever you go,” he said. “You’ll find it at Vaucluse and you’ll find it at Minto. Me working here was no fluke. Liverpool itself does have more of an abuse problem of violence and neglect and that’s probably because of socio-economic factors and there’s a bit of an ice problem in the greater west.”
Fighters Against Child Abuse Australia, or FACAA, had their first teaching facility approved at KMA Martial Arts in Liverpool. Since then the organisation has spread its martial arts and self-defence classes across Australia.
“I work here as one of the instructors so I’m lucky enough to see the program every day. We’re Australia-wide now but this is where we’re based. We currently help more than 450 children Australia-wide.”
Recently, the Commonwealth Bank Liverpool awarded FACAA with a grant of $10,000 so they can continue to help children who’ve experienced hardship.
Mr Washbourne said he was grateful to be able to help teach children that “it’s not OK to be pushed, grabbed or hit”.
“I was a martial-arts coach and counsellor, I saw the need. There were a lot of kids who weren’t reacting very well to traditional counselling methods but they’d react when I taught them how to punch, cover up and defend themselves and it evolved from there. We ended up with a charity program.
“One of the main things we teach them is stepping back and presenting their hands, how to cover their head if someone starts punching, using their voice with words like ‘back off, this isn’t my mum or dad’. These are kids who’ve survived hell on earth and to be able to give back is awesome.”
He spoke about one of his students.
“There’s a little girl here who’s 8 and you can’t imagine what they did to her. When she came in she wouldn’t even talk to us, she’d hide behind her mum. To her mum’s credit she kept bringing her in and week after week she progressed. I’d walk past and flash a pad and she would hit it but I couldn’t look or talk to her.
“Eventually she sat down in the line with the rest of the kids. I was amazed so I got a female instructor to give her a one-on-one and after 12 weeks she came out of her shell. She got her yellow belt and she was throwing the instructors around like a pro. She was full of confidence and life. Just the turn-around in this little warrior makes me tear up.”
In an exclusive, in-depth interview we spoke to one of FACAA’s volunteers.
The woman’s identity is obscured for security and legal reasons. She, as a survivor of child abuse, explained why FACAA’s work was essential. “I don’t think I realised I’d experienced child grooming and child abuse until fairly recently,” she said. “I knew I had bad experiences but I didn’t classify it as that until I saw a story by FACAA on the topic. Because I was groomed I didn’t think it was abuse. I wasn’t being forced to do it, I thought it was love. It was hearing other people’s stories that made me realise the truth.”
Tess [a pseudonym for this story] said the relationship with the adult formed when she was just 9. “It went on for much longer than you’d like to believe. He was 19 when I was 9 and he was in and out of my life until I was in my 20s. I thought abuse was when someone was being physically beaten and at the time I thought I was being treated well.
“He was someone I met while at school. There would be days where I’d be sent down to get the teacher’s lunch from the sandwich shop and there was this man loitering outside. He started talking to me and over time I’d get dropped off to school but I’d go out the back with him and leave school. I missed like 60 days of school in a year. He’d write absent notes for me.
“I went from being a good child to a high-school dropout. I went through all the bad things as a teenager – eating disorders, drugs, suicide attempts. I tried anything to block out the pain. All the signs were there – I was your typical case. I had good parents but it was something I never told them about.”
She believes if an organisation like FACAA existed when she experienced child abuse, it may not have continued for so long. “We’re lucky to FACAA now. Maybe if it was around when I was a child it could’ve stopped much earlier. The point of FACAA is to raise awareness and talk to children about what’s the norm and what’s not. If they’re not taught it’s wrong to be touched by people, how are they supposed to know?
“FACAA teach children to break a hold and get out of the situation as fast as they can. You want them screaming as loud as possible and drawing enough attention so they have a fighting chance, so they can survive.”
Tess continued to speak about her own experience. She said at 15 their relationship shifted. “I was drawn to him because he was this cool guy giving me attention. He made me feel special and he’d spoil me. But later he got violent, his whole personality changed and it’s probably because I was too old. He wanted a child.
“He started hitting me, aggressively raping me and cutting me. I was scared but I thought I must’ve done something wrong. I suffered emotionally and physiologically, I felt guilt and hated myself. He moved opposite to watch me. It stopped when I was 17. I moved out of home.”
She said both her parents are dead now and they were never aware of the abuse she suffered. She said she distanced herself and never attended family occasions.
“I was a real people-pleaser. I didn’t want to upset my parents. But now I know no child is responsible for abuse. They’re the innocent party and they have to know that.
“I have children now. My son was never abused but he suffers from anxiety so it’s had an affect on my family. I know I’m a survivor but there are times I get depressed and that affects him. Anything can trigger it for me. But the main thing is music – my abuser played the radio a lot.”
She learned he’d died a few years ago. To her surprise instead of relief, she felt upset. “There were times I hated him and wanted to kill him but there was that connection. I don’t know how he died, he was involved with the wrong people and had a drug problem. When I found out he was dead I was sad. I know it sounds silly but I hadn’t come to terms that he abused me as a child until a lot later.”
To this day she’s unsure if she was his only victim. Her message to other survivors is to reach out. “The best thing I ever did was talking to people at FACAA. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself. They don’t want you talking to anyone because there’s a chance they’ll be found out. Isolation and silence is a win for them.”
- Help is available: 1800respect.org.au, 1800 737 732 or lifeline.org.au, 131 114.