WARNING: Graphic content
THE sexual abuse Sarah* suffered at the hands of her mother shaped her life and all her future relationships.
She says while we're led to believe that men are the most frequently abusers, not all mothers should be entrusted with the greatest responsibility in life, raising vulnerable children.
Here, Sarah, from NSW, shares her experience.
IT FEELS like I need to apologise and say I don't hate my mother. I'm hugely angry with her but I don't hate her.
When we think of sexual abuse, we often conjure images of girls or women being held down or violently forced to endure it. That isn't what I experienced. I've actually struggled with that. I even blamed myself for a long time, thinking that I'd invited it.
When I was about nine years old, my mother became very affectionate with my little brother and me. She would lick our ears and as disgusting as it sounds, I think we enjoyed it.
Looking back, it feels like grooming. At the time though, I was overjoyed to have my mother's attention.
My mother was an alcoholic and had moved out when I was about seven. We started going to stay with her some weekends and met for dinner. She was often drunk.
She didn't have a bed for us when we stayed. We slept in the double bed with her. She'd sleep in the middle, with one of us on either side.
I remember being in bed one night feeling like I was having an amazing dream. The sensation was so good it woke me up. Then I realised my mother's hand was touching me. Now, I realise, I was about to have an orgasm.
I had this urge to run away and keep running but I remember thinking that if I moved, she would know. Then she would be gone forever.
For many years, I didn't realise that what happened to me was sexual abuse. As a child, you only know what's happening to you, there's no frame of reference. I knew that sex was something naughty and I presumed everyone was doing this in secret.
When I was 11, I made a similar move on a girl at a party. I just thought this is what people do. The girl asked me to stop and didn't speak to me for a while.
My mum talked to me very explicitly about sex since I was very young. In my early teens she told me there was an "art to having an orgasm with a man". She bought me black lacy underwear and introduced me to men. I went through the motions not having any connection to what I was doing, I didn't mentally engage or feel any pleasure.
I had a boyfriend for a few months when I was about 15 who noticed we weren't really connecting when we were together sexually. To his credit, he tried to talk to me about it but I didn't know how to respond. I had a string of short, destructive relationships.
It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I realised I'd been abused. I met a good man when I was 19 and had children. Over the years I began to trust him and we started having conversations as I progressed through my 20s. I knew I should be honest with him but I didn't know what to tell him.
I still have a whole heap of weird notions around sex that I don't have the words to talk about.
I've seen a psychologist and therapist for many years. At first I thought that I'd go for a while and be fixed and free. Now I understand this will be a lifelong process.
I adore my children and they're all thriving. I've talked to them about sexual abuse but not my own.
My mother came to visit recently. She just booked a ticket and arrived. I can't even tell you how I feel about it. So many emotions and I don't want them to hate her, even though I don't trust her around them.
I would love to have a mother. I would love to have close girl friends. I don't know how to connect, how to talk, how to bond.
I questioned my own sexuality for a long time. As a teenager, I found girls attractive. I was always attracted to men, but I associated pleasure with women. It's so complicated.
My little brother is now married with children of his own. He struggled for a very long time too. He attempted suicide before he was 20.
I hope that me speaking will help someone else know they're not alone. You'll find the words when you start speaking. Don't stay silent, you're not alone.
If this story has brought up anything for you, contact 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
* Name has been changed to protect identity.