A brave Queensland teenager has found her voice to speak about the sexual abuse endured at the hands of her stepfather, years after hiding behind a smile.
Annie Jones was just a 13-years-old girl when she was abused by the man who was a father to her.
Now 19, the teenager has become an advocate for other child sexual abuse victims, after hiding her secret for years.
With the support of her mother Tracey, the Sunshine Coast teen has launched an advocacy foundation No More Fake Smiles.
“Often I wish I could reach back over time and whisper to my small, 13-year-old self: ‘It’s going to be okay. Don’t be afraid. In the end it will be all right’,” she said in a video shared on the foundation’s newly-launched website.
“I obviously can’t do that, which is why I have created No More Fake Smiles instead. I want to make suffering in silence no longer an option.”
She spoke of feeling isolated, disconnected, and scared.
“I felt alone. I was so silenced, living my life in fear. I acted ‘normal’ however, on the outside I was a perfect child a part of a great Aussie family,” Annie added in a poignant message on her No More Fake Smiles website.
She spoke about presenting herself as a normal, happy, and active 13-year-old girl.
“I had great friends, played multiple sports and attended a prestigious school. I looked like any other teenage girl, but definitely did not feel it,” she said.
“It’s not always the tears that measure the pain. Sometimes it’s the smile we fake.”
Nobody knew the pain she was hiding inside, so she is now encouraging other victims to “stand up and free yourself”.
Teen trusted the man who was meant to care for her
Sharing a picture of herself smiling on a family beach holiday, around the time the abuse started, the teen added that she was scared at the time, confused and holding onto a huge secret.
Initially, Annie didn’t recognise she was being abused, because she was so young and trusted the man who was meant to care for her.
“How could it seem like abuse when I was just a young girl in this man’s care, he being someone who was meant to look after me, care for me and keep me safe,” she said.
“The abuse just became a part of my life, I got used to it, so functioned fine and kept it hidden as he had so much power and control over me ... I was so little and innocent, trapped by fear.”
Victim finds her voice to support others
With her abuser currently serving 17 years behind bars, Annie said she was still on a journey of healing.
She is using her experience to help other abused children feel safe to speak out and find their own true smiles once again.
She has also launched No More Fake Smiles to help others recognise the signs of abuse.
The brave youngster wants others to understand that it can happen to anyone by anyone – especially someone they trust or who is already part of their home or family life.
If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual or domestic abuse, don't suffer in silence, call the National Sexual Assault Helpline 1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732 any time of day or night.
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