Content warning: this story includes details of childhood sexual abuse.
A former Eurobodalla woman who survived being sexually abused as a child by her now-imprisoned uncle has been awarded just over $760,000 in damages.
In 2020, the ACT Supreme Court sentenced the uncle to a total of 12 years’ jail for sexually abusing three of his nieces while they were underage. A six-year non-parole period means he could be released in February 2026.
The man abused the niece in the recent damages case when she was between 11 and 13 years old, demanding she not tell anyone about it because “she was the liar of the family and no-one would believe her”.
She felt threatened and did not speak out until she was in her 20s. She eventually told her mother, but made her mother a promise that she would not report what happened while her grandmother was still alive.
“I note that you attempted to normalise the offending conduct by making it part of a supposed game,” Justice John Burns told the uncle at his sentencing.
“You also used the fact that the victim was perceived by some in her family as dishonest in order to attempt to hide your offending.”
After the sentencing, the woman sued her uncle for damages and the Supreme Court’s Justice David Mossop ruled in her favour on Wednesday (3 August), awarding her $762,000 and also ordering the uncle to pay her court costs.
Justice Mossop said the woman thought that by submitting to her uncle’s actions when she was a child, she was protecting other family members because he told her that he was going to “do it to the other cousins”.
“By her submitting, she thought he might spare the cousins,” the justice said.
The abuse meant she lost interest in sport and began “wagging” school. Later, her own four-year-old child was sexually assaulted by the child of a neighbour.
At one stage in her life, the woman moved to the Eurobodalla and ran a couple of businesses across the shire.
After she went to police, she recalled a time when the uncle followed her in a car from Bungendore.
“She said that despite having opportunities to overtake her, the defendant continued to drive his car behind her until they reached Braidwood,” Justice Mossop said.
“I am not satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the following was done in the knowledge that it was the plaintiff in the vehicle or done with an intention to harass or intimidate her.
“I am, however, satisfied that the plaintiff was extremely upset by the incident and that reflects upon her mental state arising out of the history of abuse.”
The woman held her mother responsible for what happened to her. While she told her mother about the abuse, her mother still forced her to invite the uncle to her wedding.
Even after her mother died, she was ostracised by her family for suggesting that her uncle had done something wrong.
Consultant psychiatrist Associate Professor Carolyn Quadrio said the trauma of sexual abuse was not confined to the abusive acts, but included trauma from a sense of betrayal and humiliation.
“Prior to the abuses, [the plaintiff] was progressing well in general and she was outstanding in sporting achievement, competing at an elite level,” Professor Quadrio said.
“At the time, she was confident and outgoing. From the time of the abuse, however, she underwent steady deterioration in her adjustment, becoming withdrawn, self conscious, losing confidence and self esteem, and, ultimately, suffering from symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression, as has been detailed.”
Justice Mossop said as a result of the abuse the woman suffered from anxiety, panic and depression, difficulty with her family and sexual relationships, a damaged sense of self, self-consciousness and perceived a lack of self-worth.
If this story has raised any concerns for you, 1800RESPECT, the national 24-hour sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line, can be contacted on 1800 737 732. Help and support are also available through The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 02 6247 2525, The Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT on 6280 0900, Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. In an emergency call 000.