‘The day my childhood died’
THE street Jarad Grice grew up in Sydney's western suburbs was like most others in Australia in the late 1980s.
Children ran between each other's houses, jumped fences chasing each other and sped down the stretch of suburban bitumen on their bikes.
"We were latchkey kids," Jarad, now 37, explained.
"We roamed and did our own thing and we thought we were pretty free. But there were points we knew we weren't allowed to venture beyond. As it turned out, the point was the furthest mother in the street who could still see us."
A kind of neighbourhood watch of parents kept an eye on the kids, who spanned all ages, to ensure they were protected from harm as they played.
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But for Jarad, the real danger lurked nearby.
An older boy befriended the youngster, who was on the cusp of adolescence, and pretty soon began sexually abusing him.
"It was the kind of street where all kids of all ages played together, so it wasn't unusual that he was around."
In the beginning, before the abuse, it was cool to hang out with him. He'd talk about his girlfriend, offering a rare glimpse into what it meant to be a young man.
"I liked the attention of an older kid," he said. "There was cool stuff to do at his house. It was fun."
Jarad can't precisely recall the very first instance of sexual abuse, but he has a vivid recollection of the countless other times and how it made him feel.
Shame. Guilt. Disgust. Confusion.
"I was afraid I would get in trouble for it. I didn't like it. I didn't understand it. I had a fear of him. At some point I got in my head that I should avoid playing because he would invite me over if he saw me."
Jarad can also clearly remember the last time he was abused.
"The last time he tried it, he came out looking for me in the street. I was with my friends and he lured me to some bushes at the end of the street, pulled me away from everyone, and tried it on in the open. I said no, no way.
"He was very predatory and very premeditated."
Then mercifully, his family moved house not long after and he didn't have to see the older boy again - until decades later.
When he was 14, Jarad saw a television news story about childhood sexual abuse and something inside his head clicked.
"I remember realising, like kind of, hang on a second - I was a kid. There was a small sense of relief in that. I'd always felt guilty that it was my fault and I'd let it happen. I felt deeply ashamed.
"I realised I didn't have choice in that matter and when I was in the situation, I was totally powerless."
AN INNOCENCE STOLEN
The day Jarad was abused was the day his childhood died. Carrying the heavy burden of what happened to him - and the pressure to keep it secret - made his teenage years a powder keg.
"They were very fraught," he said.
"I just sat on it all. I didn't say anything to anyone. I had so much going on that my parents didn't know about and I think it made things tough with them."
When he was 17, he got "rip-roaring drunk" for the first time while out with a group of mates. The dam wall holding in all of that upset, shame and aggression finally burst.
Heavily intoxicated, Jarad jumped in front of a car.
"My friends didn't know what was going on. As far as they were concerned, I was happy," he said. "On the outside, I was the good boy. I was the eldest so I was responsible. I got good marks at school. Then something changed when I was drunk. It all came out."
While sat in the gutter with his best friend, Jarad spoke about the horrific abuse for the very first time.
Having grown up in the church together, his mate encouraged Jarad to tell the youth leaders, who he was close to. He did, and then eventually he told his parents.
"It wasn't pretty. They were, naturally, devastated," he said.
Jarad began seeing a counsellor right away but for a long time it seemed things were getting worse, not better. At 19 there was a fairly serious suicide attempt that led to a scary realisation afterwards about just how much he was struggling.
"My 20s were messy," Jarad said. "I would cycle through these deep feelings of shame and guilt. The level of distress I would feel at times was hard to comprehend.
"I struggled with super self-destructive behaviour. I was smart enough never to get into drugs. I think I was educated and scared enough. But at times I drank a lot."
After the suicide attempt, Jarad began seeing a psychologist, who he says "worked to keep me alive every day".
When he was 22, Jarad went to the police without telling anyone and made a report about the abuse he had suffered. No one has been convicted over his complaint.
THE HEALING PROCESS
After facing a legal mountain, Jarad said he began climbing the emotional one with the help of his psychologist and his family.
The legal process was devastating and he experienced a deep depression after, but laying out every single allegation of the abuse made it possible to eventually "start working through it".
Looking back, he feels fortunate that his family moved away from that neighbourhood when they did, when he knows many victims of abuse are stuck with their abusers and have no way out.
The most recent national figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indicate that there were 5559 substantiated cases of child sexual abuse across the country in 2016.
The rate of notification of all kinds of abuse against kids rose by 11.2 per cent that year, when the number of substantiated reports hit 60,989 - the highest on record.
Jarad credits a big part of his recovery to the support of his mum and dad, who rose to the formidable challenge of supporting him from the moment they found out.
"Every step of the way during my 20s, they were one ahead of me," he said.
"If I struggled about something in particular, they'd have already read about it or spoken to someone and were ready to help me."
A few years ago, he went to a support group in Sydney called SAMSN.
"I sat there and I was 34, I think, and there were men there who were 10, 15 or more years older than me and hadn't ever spoken about the abuse. Most were speaking for the first time.
"I'd never spoken to anyone else who had been through it before. All of the fears and concerns I felt were shared. It was incredible.
He then participated in the Polished Man campaign, which encourages men to paint one of their fingers nails to highlight the issue of violence against children.
Globally, one child dies every five minutes as a result of violence, and 90 per cent of all sexual violence against kids is perpetrated by men. Last year, he signed on as an ambassador.
"The first time I participated, it was kind of like testing the waters. Everyone close to me knew about it at that point, but it wasn't public by any means," Jarad said.
"Becoming an ambassador last year kind of upped the ante. I thought I could do more. I wanted to do more."
It marked another significant milestone in what has proven to be a daily recovery.
"I had never said the words, 'I was sexually abused' in public before the opening night. To speak about it from the point of view of a survivor, not a victim, has been so empowering."
These days, Jarad is an architect whose life is in a "pretty good place".
"More and more, definitely. I'm always going to have dark days, that's the reality I'm coming to grips with. But it's a process," he said.
"I'm super keen to keep turning this into a positive thing in some way. I can't undo what was done but I don't have to live in the shadow of it anymore."
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.
There are a number of support services available for victims of childhood or other age sexual assault - details can be found here.
Find out more about the work of Gotcha4Life by visiting gotcha4life.org.