Rebecca Grugan shares her story of sex abuse survival with Kylie Lang.
Rebecca Grugan shares her story of sex abuse survival with Kylie Lang.

‘I was barely out of nappies when the abuse started’

She was just four years old when the sexual abuse began and now, at 33, Rebecca Grugan still checks for exit signs when she enters a building so she can keep herself "safe always".

Her former stepfather had his way with her for four long years until he was caught out by her mother and jailed.

But the abuse didn't stop there, and the story of this one woman - now an early childhood educator and mother of two - is damning proof that violence comes in many forms. None of it is acceptable.

On the eve of International Women's Day, Ms Grugan has decided to speak out for the first time.

"I was barely out of nappies, only 48 months old when the abuse started," she tells me.

"My stepfather would play 'games' with me on the lounge in front of the TV and his fingers would always end up inside me, and then one time when he forced me to 'give him head' Mum walked in and was absolutely horrified. I was 8."

Rebecca Grugan at home with her two sons Liam and Owen, in Alexandra Hills. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
Rebecca Grugan at home with her two sons Liam and Owen, in Alexandra Hills. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

Ms Grugan is now happily married and mother to Liam, 8, and Owen, 2, but wants people to be aware of how commonly harm is perpetrated, and to look out for the women and children around them.

At 12, she was groped by a male family friend in a swimming pool.

At 15, she was assaulted by a boy in a locked room while his friends guffawed outside.

And at 22, she broke off her engagement, the relationship ending with a Domestic Violence Order.

She also has been masturbated in front of by a stranger at a bus stop, and recently intimidated by a former male work associate "on a power trip".

A target for almost her entire life, Ms Grugan says changing the status quo is a key reason she works in childcare - she runs Montessori centres in Alexandra Hills and Burbank.

"Children need to know they can speak up and that they deserve respect," she says.

Agreed.

As a society, we must do better at raising our kids to understand and practice respect, of others and of self.

To realise every person has a right to feel safe, and be safe.

Hannah Clarke and her children died at the hands of her estranged husband.
Hannah Clarke and her children died at the hands of her estranged husband.

To intervene early so that prevention becomes the focus, not scrambling for a response after crimes are committed.

It is good that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is taking action following the horrific murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children in Brisbane's Camp Hill.

She has announced a domestic violence summit to take place later this month, and says she will consider opening a dedicated DV court in Brisbane.

But the State Government must do more. For a start, change disclosure laws around domestic violence so that perpetrators are named and shamed, as they can be in other parts of the country.

Why should these disgraces of human beings being afforded anonymity?

All this does is provide tacit approval to keep on offending - if no-one knows, they'll continue their power trips behind closed doors.

Research shows the risk of being caught and exposed is a far more effective deterrent to committing crime than even the harshest punishment.

We also need Domestic Violence Orders to mean something, as I've said before, instead of 83 per cent - 25,000 of the 30,000 issued last year in this state - being breached.

Rebecca Grugan has shared her story for the first time. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
Rebecca Grugan has shared her story for the first time. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

The path to lasting change, however, is through early intervention, which is where serious resources must be deployed.

Ms Grugan told me that, as a child, she had come to believe that physical and emotional abuse were "what love was about".

How sad is that?

Last month she shared a poignant account of her abuse on social media, and stated some truths we all must hear.

"I shouldn't have to be scared of wearing makeup or wearing certain things - just so maybe I won't be a target," she wrote.

"I shouldn't have to be looking for the exits when I enter a new building because I need to know how to keep myself safe always.

"I shouldn't have to be scared to tell my story in fear of people thinking maybe I'm the one to blame.

"This is more than boys vs. girls. This is a societal problem that needs every single person to reflect and look at how we can make this world a safer place for all of us."

Let's get on with it.

Kylie Lang is the Associate Editor for The Courier-Mail.

*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.