Survivor speaks out.
One never knows what can happen, or has happened, behind closed doors in a quiet street in a nice little town.
His voice on the phone was quietly firm and confident.
‘I have a story to tell. My story. I want to share it. To help others. My name is Ricky Gilfillan. I am 24 years old. I was sexually abused by my neighbour in Wingham from the age of eight years old. And I never told anyone.’
Ricky’s courage in now telling his story is, he insists, not to name and shame, but ‘To help those who are afraid to speak up. And to raise awareness about something that is happening too often and we pretend it’s not. Once I disclosed what had happened to me my life completely changed.’
And for the better. It’s been a hard road for Ricky and his mother Nerida, a divorced single mother, who never could understand why her ‘sweet and loving little boy’ became an angry, negative, bundle of fury and hate against the world.
It was only two years ago that Ricky finally broke and revealed what had happened to him, in a last ditch emotional cry for help, though he hadn’t realised it at that moment.
Many sexual abuse victims never break free of their nightmare. Once Ricky disclosed his terrible secret, reached out to his family who had no idea of his abuse, and went to the police, the offender was arrested, confessed and is serving his sentence in Kirkconnell Correctional Facility in NSW.
‘He got eight years with a non parole of four years and three months. Better than I expected but, at the end of August 2019, he will be out, probably back with his family in Wingham, in his 40s and who’s to say not re-offend,’ said Ricky.
Ricky has chosen to go public. He has a facebook page naming and showing a photograph of the perpetrator who is also listed on a sexual offenders website.
It is a difficult decision to publicly name the offender when the man’s family still live down the road from Ricky’s mother where the abuse was perpetrated. This is a small community and the ripple effects, for and against identifying the offender, stack up on both sides.
If one knows a convicted sexual predator is living in the community, should he/she be identified for the safety of others?
If a convicted sexual offender has been rehabilitated, and is quietly monitored by authorities, should he or she, be given an opportunity to begin again?
There are horror stories of offenders who have served their time, worked through an intensive rehabilitation course, are monitored or must report to authorities, and have attempted to start again in a new community, only to be outed, hounded and hunted from the town.
Paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder. According to Sydney Ethicist, Gordon Young, who has studied and researched paedophilia,
‘For anyone with a psychiatric disorder or psychological issue, studies show that the single most important thing when it comes to treatment is early intervention. In the case of paedophilia, this can be the difference between an unfortunate but never indulged sexual preference, and a child rapist. Early intervention requires early detection, and the early stages of most psychological conditions aren’t obvious from the outside. This means that the only real chance of early intervention for paedophilia is if those afflicted come forward voluntarily for treatment before they offend. But under a system that assumes rehabilitation of paedophiles is impossible and makes them the target of potential vigilantes, who would admit to being sexually attracted to children? My major concern with naming a released paedophile is not for the privacy or interests of the offender, but rather for those in the community they move in to – unless they have a solid shot at rehabilitation, re-offense becomes significantly more likely. Ironically the community is safer if it gives the offender a second chance than if it hounds him. Of course you can chase them out of town, but that just moves the problem elsewhere.
‘Perhaps it is better to advise a community that a past offender has moved into the area and be aware of leaving children unattended with adults they do not know.’
Here is Ricky’s story.
‘I was born in Newcastle, but my mum and dad separated when I was six months old, and mum moved back home to Wingham. My grandparents had a dairy farm and I used to spend weekends and every holiday with them. Mum and I lived in a quiet, nice, street in Wingham, just the two of us. But when I was eight years old, mum took a part time job at a nursing home, a shift from 3pm to 7pm.
And so it started, right away. He was in his 20s, lived in our street with his parents. He didn’t work and hung around all the time. As soon as mum left for work and I came home from school he started coming over and the abuse started.
He threatened me straight away, told me that if I said anything he’d hurt mum or me and if I told anyone no one would believe me. He was a pig shooter and had a gun. So I was too scared to say anything. So it went on. I couldn’t tell anyone, I just basically shut down and closed up. I was a little kid and had no idea what to do. But as it went on for years, it started to affect me with anger issues. I was fighting at school, shouting at teachers, arguing with mum. The abuse went on every week until I was twelve years old.
Then a nice old retired man moved in a few doors away and I felt I could trust him, so I used to race home from school and go to his place and stay there until mum came home. I felt safe there. Sometimes I’d go to mum’s work and play dominoes with the old folk and stuff but she didn’t like me doing that as she thought she might get into trouble. Without ever knowing it, that old bloke saved my life when he moved in.
But while the abuse stopped ‘cause the mongrel couldn’t get at me, I was really screwed up. So at 17 I left, I just wanted to work and get as far away as possible from Wingham. He ruined my life.
I had a lot of good jobs on the harvest trail, oil rigs, you name it, but I lost them all because of my anger at the world, my temper. Yeah, I wanted to kill myself. When I visited my nan and grandpop if I could’ve found the keys to the gunsafe I would’ve shot myself. I couldn’t hold a relationship because I couldn’t trust anybody. Basically I was just going through life never getting anywhere. I’d never told anyone and it was getting worse and worse. I don’t know how those men who were abused by the Catholic Church kept quiet for so many years without going mad.
The breaking point came two years ago. I was working at a timber mill back in the area and living at Nan and Pops’ farm. I had a girlfriend and we had an argument, and well, I just cracked and I blurted out that I’d been abused. She told me I needed help and we busted up. But I figured, okay if I’ve told one person I might as well come out with it. So I told Nan. And I really broke down. She said, we’d better tell Pop. So then they said we’d better call Mum. At that stage mum and I weren’t talking, that was my fault.
At first mum didn’t want to believe it, it was a shock. But she thought about it and told me things started coming back to her and now made sense. She was relieved, and said no more lies and secrets. It was hard for her and she blamed herself for awhile, but I hope she doesn’t feel like that anymore. We’re good mates now. So I went to the police. At first I didn’t think they believed me and I had to go to mental health sessions but then there was a new girl detective in Taree and she believed me. So they came up with a plan, which I can’t talk about, to confront the offender and get him to admit what he’d done. As soon as he realised the game was up he confessed to make it easier on himself and was arrested. But it took nearly two years for it to be over.
Standing in court on the day of the sentencing last month I was holding on to Pop and Mum’s hand and shaking. His sentence was better than I expected, but the fact he nearly got out of going into a correctional facility but to a rehab place concerned me. So I asked that everything be made public.
The day I disclosed what happened to me it was like a mountain lifted off my shoulders. And I want other people to know that and come forward.’
Ricky is living in Toowoomba, working as an excavator operator and has a supportive girlfriend whom he told up front about his case. ‘I thought if we were going to get serious she needs to know what happened and it’s her decision to walk away or not. But she’s stuck by me.’
Ricky and his Mum, Nerida, are close and speak daily. A sadness is the shock of the case seems to have advanced his Nan’s dementia. ‘But Pop looks after her, really good.’
His mother still lives in the same house in the same street as the offender’s parents.
Says Nerida Gilfillan, ‘I used to avoid them, hurry past and keep my head down. Then I thought, No, Ricky and I haven’t done anything wrong. And I hold my head up high.’ But the pain remains. ‘He was such a caring, loving, sweet little boy. To have that mongrel coming over and touching him, turned my little boy into an animal. You couldn’t talk to him, he was like glass, so fragile and then he’d explode. But, to his credit, Ricky never to turned to drugs or alcohol, his life was wrecked. I know now he was suicidal and once tried to jump in front of a train. The news shattered my mum, Ricky was always her favourite grandkid. That’s why he wants people to know what happened to him, and say they don’t have to suffer in silence. I’m so proud of him now, he’s a strong young man. But gee wizz all those years he was a monster kid, I could’ve killed him.’ She gives a small hurt laugh. ‘But I didn’t know . . I didn’t know . . .’
Ricky now wants to train as a counselor as,
‘I’ve been there and I feel I have the strength to help other people through this. Nothing annoyed me more than when I was seeing the mental health people after I went to the police, and I hated them saying to me “I understand how you feel . .” And I’d say, Have you ever been abused? And they’d say No. And I’d say then don’t tell me you understand.’
For the first time a bitter note creeps into his voice, but then he softens. ‘I just want to help other people who’ve suffered like me. I hope they can reach out and find me. If I can help someone else through this, that would make me a happy person.’
If you need to report any kind abuse or ask advice, Contact Lifeline – 6552 6544, the Sexual Assault Unit at Community Health Taree – 6592 9315, your local police station, a church leader, a responsible adult, or Beyond Blue -1300 224636.