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Photo: Getty Images, posed by model

Around two years ago I was faced with a dilemma of monumental proportions.  I had to decide whether to save the life of the paedophile that raped and sexually abused my 11-year-old daughter.  

It’s difficult to find the words to describe how you feel as a mum, finding out that your child is the victim of a sexual predator – even more so when the predator is your partner, who you loved unconditionally and admired.  In the time it took to read the contents of three sticky notes, my life as I knew it changed forever. The truth in those words has left me with an overwhelming burden of guilt and an unshakeable sense that I have failed as a mother in my duty to protect my child.

How could I be so oblivious to the torture of my own child?  There didn’t seem to be anything missing from my life - great kids, wonderful partner, long-term committed relationship, and an interesting career. I felt as though I had it all. We even had an in-ground pool and air-conditioning!  Then the unthinkable truth was revealed and my life took a turn into a world that I never knew existed.  

It was a Monday night, and our lives were in a state of chaos, having just experienced a severe weather event.  We were watching TV when my daughter stomped through the lounge room into the bathroom, and then came back, slapping three sticky notes into my hand before going back to her bedroom and slamming the door. I won’t ever forget the blank fear I felt in that moment. With no hesitation whatsoever I went into her bedroom, only to find a small child consumed with fear in desperate need of comfort, love and support. The note said she was sorry to tell me about what he had been doing to her and that she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. It was clear from what she had written that she had some awareness of what would follow her disclosure.  I am so proud that my child had so much faith in me as her mum that she knew without doubt that once she told me, her part of the crappiness would be over.  He was kicked out that night and never spent another night in our home.  He cried, pleaded innocence, but it was pointless – it was a deal breaker, and whatever I felt for him as my partner came as a remote second to standing beside my child and supporting her. 

The next few days were crazy, I decided not to go to the police until I had a full understanding of the truth. This is what saved us.  I will always be sorry for the pain I put my child through in these few days. She knew I believed her, but sadly I think she knew that I desperately wanted her truth to be a lie.  Finally, three days later, I received the confession from him that I needed to hear.  Following this, he made a second attempt at suicide, and in that moment I realised that the first was nothing short of a blatant attempt to gain my sympathy.

I had been to his house that morning, to collect more of our belongings. He seemed a bit groggy which I put down to being a side effect from the drugs he had taken on the first attempt at suicide.  I had an appointment in town, and left him in his bedroom after forcing him to have a shower and something to eat and drink.  If I’d chosen to stop and have lunch with a friend as planned, I could have avoided being in this situation that I have no hope of ever coming to terms with.  He’d be long dead, and I wouldn’t have been burdened with the guilt of giving him another shot at life, a chance he won’t ever deserve.  When I got back to his house, I went to his bedroom where he had been for the last four days, and found him unconscious and barely breathing. He was blue in the face and looked like he was dying. I didn’t immediately act to help him. I sat down on the bed and contemplated just leaving him there. I decided to help him and called ‘000’ before performing CPR on him for about forty minutes. 

The shadow of guilt never leaves me. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like for us if, instead of choosing to spend forty minutes of my life in a frantic effort to give him another undeserved chance at life, I had just made myself a cup of tea and waited while he died.  Death, and the glory of being a dead town hero was what he wanted. It would have suited his façade and, as his partner, I could see that for him it was his only hope of being remembered as a decent human.  But death before facing consequences seemed like an escape, and offered no justice for what had been endured by my child.  I won’t ever know if I made the right choice. By saving his life I have given him the opportunity to re-establish and reoffend.  Our system supports the rehabilitation of paedophiles. It’s as fraught with danger and risk of slip-ups as asking an alcoholic to run a pub.  The price for getting this wrong, for taking a chance on a cure, is way too high. I know this because I have lived this.  He will be placed back amongst our families and children, and that fact alone makes me wish I had left him to die. 

“Angela” will appear on SBS’s Insight program tonight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE, in a discussion about whether there is any moral obligation to save a life.

*Names have been changed

*Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.