Tragic reason paedo targeted schoolgirl

 

There is a great mental health divide in this country: between those who can afford to access quality care, and those will find themselves bounced around a system of red tape for months.

The government recently announced it is urging people to 'prioritise mental health', promising more funding and services. But nothing in their package even remotely addresses the vast divide between the 'haves' and 'have nots' when it comes to mental health support.

My story is an example of how being a 'have not' can destroy your life.

My family grew up on the outskirts of society. I was vulnerable and as a child from a poor family it was not uncommon for men to prey on me. They knew I didn't have much power and having parents who suffered from mental illness, I was an easy target.

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Tara Schultz as a kid with her dad. Poor and with mentally ill parents, Tara became a target.
Tara Schultz as a kid with her dad. Poor and with mentally ill parents, Tara became a target.

Peter Coomer, a friend of my father, started grooming me at 12. He convinced me that his abuse was love and that he was the only one who cared about me.

That was reinforced when Dad left when I was 14. Without any support for his own mental health, the family broke down.

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Tara Schultz, seen here with her dad, was abused by his friend Peter Coomer.
Tara Schultz, seen here with her dad, was abused by his friend Peter Coomer.

Peter, having identified me as a vulnerable target at 12, knew I was easy prey and by 14 I was alone with him. Dad left me in his care not knowing about the abuse.

Peter fed me a steady supply of cannabis and methamphetamines. I would detox with youth services but he would feed me another drug. The physical violence and psychological attacks combined with the sexual assaults meant I just wanted to escape, but being a child I couldn't. So I took his drugs as a mechanism to escape and he fed me them, knowing they would keep me dependent.

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Tara Schultz when she was eight years old.
Tara Schultz when she was eight years old.

I thought that if I could go to detox to get off these drugs I could escape him. But no matter how sober I got, the trauma and inability to survive in the world alone always kept me going back to taking drugs and to him.

I lived with just him from 14 to 20 when I finally escaped.

But the damage he'd done meant it was hard for me to regulate my emotions. So I tried to self-medicate with cannabis, alcohol or sedatives. Anything to numb the pain. My mental health continued to circle the drain.

Youth services played a massive role in helping me on my feet. After I escaped, I was intermittently homeless and they helped find supported accommodation.

I had a brilliant youth worker, Warren, who gave me a sense that I wasn't alone, and told me that I was capable of more.

Tara Schultz found the help at youth services enabled her to get her life back on track.
Tara Schultz found the help at youth services enabled her to get her life back on track.

At 24 I went to university and got a rental of my own. Though I was still battling PTSD, trauma, chronic pain and intermittent substance dependence, I was getting good grades. I had hope, so my ambition was able to flourish.

Through studying an arts degree, with the hope of getting into social work, I realised my childhood wasn't uncommon. So I decided to tell my story and went to the police.

Peter was arrested and his court case began in my final year of university. In October 2018, Peter Coomer, 42, pleaded guilty to multiple charges of sexually penetrating a child under 16, indecent acts with a child, giving a drug of dependence to a child and assaults. He was later sentenced to nine years and 11 months in prison.

I'd had to face him in court and relive the trauma of my youth. I began having flashbacks, nightmares and persistent unrelenting anxiety and depression.

Against the odds Tara got her degree but facing her abuser in court caused her life to spiral.
Against the odds Tara got her degree but facing her abuser in court caused her life to spiral.

By now I was 27 and the support I had found in the youth sector was no longer available to me.

I knew I needed help. However, accessing public services can take months.

I'd only been taking painkillers intermittently, but by the time I could finally access these services, my use had started to get out of control.

I spent four years on and off months-long waiting lists for twelve day stays in detoxes focused mostly on relapse prevention, with very little trauma management or therapy groups.

In one place, I was stripsearched on entry. Our phones and electronics were confiscated. We weren't allowed to access the supermarket in case we stole something. We were made to feel like naughty children and told that we should "be grateful to have more privileges than those in prison".

It felt as though I didn't belong with the rest of 'proper' society. I was deviant. It compounded my shame and my trauma festered away inside me, unaddressed.

Tara struggled to access effective mental health services as an adult.
Tara struggled to access effective mental health services as an adult.

Then COVID-19 hit and the government raised Jobseeker. All of a sudden I could afford private health insurance.

The difference was like night and day.

I was almost immediately placed in a program to help me manage emotional distress and cope with crisis. It was a four-week intensive inpatient stay, in which I saw a psychiatrist daily, a psychologist once or twice a week, and five days a week group therapy.

I wasn't treated like a naughty child, or a criminal. I wasn't assumed to be inherently immoral and incapable. All the nurses knew my name straight away and would often check in on me. One nurse spent a great deal of time with me while I cried, offering guidance and support - a far cry from the nurses locked behind their assault-proof doors in the public clinics.

I finally have hope, finally feel I have a safety net - a real safety net. I feel supported enough to feel confident going back to university and work.

I never knew such a place existed, that treatment like this was available.

Why is our mental health system so lacking when it comes to income? How is it that in Australia the outcomes for victims of violent crime are determined by how much money they make?

We cannot claim everyone has the same chances in our society. Those who are in the upper classes get a leg-up should they fall, the rest of us languish and are mocked as bludgers or miscreants - the undeserving poor.

Tara Schultz has hope for the future after receiving proper care for her childhood trauma and addiction.
Tara Schultz has hope for the future after receiving proper care for her childhood trauma and addiction.

I have been labelled an addict and a bludger, as though my issues are a result of deviancy and not a lifetime of abuse. Not the fault of the perpetrator but my shame to bear. Poverty has compounded my health issues, and I am made to feel as though I bought it on myself.

Being able to finally afford private health with a boosted Jobseeker payment has given me hope that I can manage my trauma.

Now they wish to pull those on welfare back below the poverty line. That small window I got to get ahead is now being steadily stripped from me, compounded by the lack of funding into the public health sector. It's a double edged sword. Pull funding from public health and then cut welfare so low you can't afford the healthcare you need to get ahead.

It's almost like they don't want us to be able to get ahead. Inequality grows in this Lucky Country.

All I ever wanted was a normal life, to be able to participate in the world, to work in policy, to work in advocacy, to be able to achieve my greatness. I would like, as the government is suggesting, to prioritise my mental health - but I wonder when the government will wake up to the fact that equality in healthcare should be its priority.

Tara Schultz received a court order to share her story via the #LetUsSpeak campaign, created by Nina Funnell in partnership with news.com.au, Marque Lawyers, End Rape On Campus Australia and Rape & Sexual Assault Research & Advocacy.

Originally published as Tragic reason paedo targeted schoolgirl

By the time she was 16, Tara was addicted to drugs after being fed them by her abuser.
By the time she was 16, Tara was addicted to drugs after being fed them by her abuser.


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