Auckland, New Zealand – 24th of May, 2021 – One in five children will experience some form of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, and when assaults occur within the family, sibling sexual assault is five times more likely – and often far more violent – than abuse from a trusted adult.
We need to change the way we listen to survivors’ stories, no matter how uncomfortable they are to hear, and teach people their secret is safe to tell.
This is author Naomi Hunter’s truth. A survivor of child sexual abuse and now an acclaimed children’s book author set out to write her autobiography, detailing her journey as a child born into chaos and abuse, to becoming an empowered author and child advocate.
Her autobiography One Little Life (published by Empowering Resources) is written as a fictional narrative: Lily, the only girl and youngest of six children, learnt at a young age to do as she was told. If she kept silent, kept out of the way and kept being perfect, all would be okay.
Good girls do what they’re told.
Good girls please.
Good girls make everyone else happy.
Good girls do not cause trouble.
Good girls keep their legs open and their mouths shut.
Good girls are silent.
Good girls pretend to be happy.
Good girls sacrifice themselves.
Good girls get abused.
Good girls never, ever say no.
While the recollection of her memories is often confronting, Naomi’s story leaves readers with a sense of troubling beauty, and the power to stand for survivors and with survivors.
“I’m no longer apologetic for my story and I know I didn’t cause or deserve a single act of sexual, physical or emotional abuse,” said Hunter. “Nor does any survivor".
“Sexual abuse is not an incurable illness. No assault is too painful to be witnessed or heard, and no story is too shame-filled or soul crushing that we can’t find ways to confront them and heal.”
How we tell and hear stories will be how we change and heal
According to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, it currently takes survivors an average of 23.9 years to come forward.
”If we are to change that statistic, we need to change not only how to tell these stories, but also how we listen to them,” Hunter said. “Everything from their traumatic experience, their pain, their invasion of privacy and ownership over their own body, the suppression of their voice and the violation of their rights, the absence of their deserved protection, and most importantly, their life, deserves to be heard,”
Hunter asserts that un-sanitised and unedited narratives will be our strongest resource for teaching men and women, adults and children about sexual consent.
She believes Australian schools need a nationally mandated sexual consent education that goes right to the core of the problem – awareness and empowerment.
“My brain has been a wonderful custodian over my memories and pain,” she said. “Conveying the lens of my story – the survivor of these soul-destroying acts, which is a story shared by many women – on paper is how I want to empower readers to break the shame cycle and put a stop to sexual violence.”
One of Australia’s leading experts in the field of sibling sexual abuse, Dr Anne Welfare, said One Little Life will be an extraordinary read for childhood sexual assault survivors, as the novel clearly articulates these damaging acts, and creates a narrative around sexual abuse in the family construct, helping them feel validated and heard.
“I’ve never met a survivor that is complicit in their abuse, and Hunter’s story will help reframe their power and take control of their trauma,” said Welfare.
“Less than 20 per cent of sibling sexual abuse survivors disclose at the time of their abuse, compared to more than 60 per cent of victims from a father or stepfather. When they do disclose, their experiences are often misinterpreted as normal childhood sexual exploration, as there is no construct for parents or victims to understand what has occurred.
“Hunter is an author with stories to tell. One Little Life will help family and friends understand the gravity of childhood sexual abuse, particularly that from a trusted sibling, and the flow-on impact of losing other significant relationships,” added Welfare.
The book will be available in bookstores across the country through NewSouth Books from the 1st of July, 2021.
It is available now through https://www.naomihunter.com.au/one-little-life.