'Our daughter was sexually assaulted by her poppy'
HETTY Johnston was the guest speaker at the Mayor's Charity Breakfast in Kingaroy this morning, and her story of heartbreak and strength resonated with the crowd of more than 100 South Burnett locals.
As the executive director of Bravehearts Australia, Ms Johnston is a voice for children and adults who have endured sexual assault.
She and her family have been living in Queensland since 1987, and Ms Johnston started her working life with a career in senior finance and business, which she stayed in for 15 years.
"I believe the universe has a plan for each and every person," she told the crowd at the Kingaroy RSL.
"I spent the first part of my life in Queensland gathering experience and information. I learnt a lot about our world, how it works, and most importantly a lot about myself."
In the 1990s she led a successful community campaign against a State Government decision to build a toll road through "Southeast Queensland suburbs, forests and koala habitat".
This was her very first taste of activism, and led to her being appointed the Queensland Leader of the then Australian Democrats from 1995 to 1997.
But during this career change, her whole world was turned upside down.
"In 1996 our daughter Kayleen was sexually assaulted by my husband's father. By her poppy," Ms Johnston said.
Kayleen was only six years old at the time. Months off turning seven.
"We later learnt he had been sexually offending against practically every female member of our family," explained Hetty.
"This had been going on for 40 years. That's two generations.
"Kayleen was the first to speak up. Because of her, 40 years worth of victims also spoke up for the first time since it had happened."
Hetty said Kayleen was a hero. Her hero.
"No one had ever said anything until our daughter did. Before this we had a 'perfect family'," she said.
"We had that white picket fence, good jobs, lived in a nice area, well respected friends and family.
"He was the last person in the world we would suspect of something like that. I trusted him. But, he was the one who did it. He betrayed us all.
"When we went looking for help there was none in Australia. And yet one in five kids are sexually assaulted in Australia before they turn 15 years old."
Ms Johnston and her husband soon realised they needed help.
"So we got our help from New Zealand. We turned to the Wellington Rape Crisis Centre - we are so thankful they were able to tell us what to do and how to support our daughter," she said.
"He (the offender) went to jail. He only got four years. He only served two. And now he's dead in the ground where he can't hurt any more children."
Ms Johnston has decided to run as an independent Senate candidate in the upcoming federal election.
Her campaign slogan is "Believe again".
Ms Johnston said child protection would always be her number-one priority and she has pledged to never stop pursuing her vision of Australia being the safest place in the world to raise a child.
She has changed a lot for children in Australia already.
Ms Johnston began by founding Bravehearts, a registered non-profit charity providing counselling services for both children and adults who have experienced sexual assault as a child.
She is also behind the national awareness campaign known as White Balloon Day, which has been acknowledged and supported by the Commonwealth of Australia.
She then created the Sexual Assault Disclosure Scheme to create a safe place for sexual assault survivors to disclose their perpetrators and remain anonymous.
Ditto's Keep Safe Adventure was another initiative she started as an interactive tool used to teach children about their personal safety. She then set up a school-based personal safety education program based on this.
QUEENSLAND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES
She was also behind the successful amendment to legislation, including the right to speak publicly, the Child Protection Act (Section 189) and Children's Right Amendment Bill 2002/Civil Liability Bill 2002.
"I just can't wait to create even more change," Ms Johnston said.
"I'll be able to do so much more if I'm walking the halls of parliament. I want to talk to people and help them to understand what is happening.
"Life is valuable. People are valuable. Your children are valuable. They should be at the centre of this country, of everything. Not power and money.
NEW SOUTH WALES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES
Ms Johnston believes the longer Australians ignore issues such as child sexual assault, the worse they will become.
"I'm a fighter. I will never give up. I'm not frightened. I'd love to get in there and make kids matter in every bit of legislation that comes across that table..." she said.
"I don't think people want to hear it, so they don't believe it. They don't believe the victims because it causes harm to the offender, and disruption to their own lives.
"Adults can be very selfish, and don't always put their children first.
"The law does not consider children or child development. This needs to change," she said.
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