The girl in the painting: Helen’s 24 years of abuse at the hands of her father

Sickeningly, her father said he was standing up for the rights of children – that children deserved to feel the same sexual satisfaction as adults.  Unbelievably, her mother justified it by saying ‘better your father than some stranger taught this to you’.

Such was the heinous manipulation and control that Helen Wells was groomed, sexually assaulted and raped until she was in her mid-20s, by a man that was supposed to offer protection – her father.

An adult when she could finally rally the courage to end the torrent of abuse and exit a world of hurt and secrecy, Helen went to the police. Silenced for the first 24 years of her life, she is now speaking louder than ever to empower children and adult survivors to tear down the walls of silence, secrecy and shame.

The creepy grooming, false love and power Robert George Wells had over his daughter was astonishing.  He tagged it an act of love.  He said ‘if you love me, you will have sex with me’.  Helen knew it wasn’t an act of love, but from the age of three she was manipulated and conditioned to accept that sexual assault was an ‘ordinary’ part of her life.

“Sympathy and love are far more powerful tools of control than those of violence and pain,” says Helen, now 35.

“I knew it was wrong but when he would say to me ‘you love me don’t you?’ I was led to believe it was the compassionate thing to do.”

The abuse was consistent, at least once every two weeks. She was his muse. He would take her to the beach, photograph her and then head home and paint her – most of the time in pastel. Applying brush strokes to the canvas of a young girl innocently walking along the beach.

A well known artist in the Sunshine Coast-Gympie area, Wells painted idyllic scenes including a set ofartwork which triggered Helen recently while waiting to see a doctor.  Six paintings hugged the wall in the waiting room.  All paintings featured a young girl wearing a white dress and straw hat – the girl in the painting was Helen.

“There’s a bigger story to those paintings. It’s an illusion, the paintings were part of the illusion to throw people off the scent of what was happening,” she says.

What made it even more difficult for Helen to break the silence was the fact that she was homeschooled, excluded from the wider community with zero support by another person that was supposed to protect her – her own mother.

“My mother has never admitted to knowing the abuse occurred but she did not seem shocked when she found out her husband was having sex with her daughter and to add insult to injury, she justified his actions,” says Helen.

“When you don’t have the support and love of your family it makes it a million times harder to break free.”

“But once I stepped forward, the support of the friends who did stand by me was so important – if you have a friend going through a situation like I was in or a challenging life issue, never underestimate how significant your support can be to them.”

Helen has not spoken to her mother or father since the trial.  The last word she heard her father say was ‘guilty’ in response to the convictions being read out by the Judge.

For many Australians it will be hard to believe this sort of abuse occurred for such a long period of time BUT unfortunately given the instance of grooming, victims can be perpetrated for many, many years, even into adulthood.

Research shows one in three Australians would not believe children if they disclosed they were being abused (Australian Childhood Foundation, 2009).  And, the reality is the longer the child is afraid to speak out because they fear rejection, the harder it is to break the silence as they get older, stop the assaults and disclose as an adult.

The fact Helen was able to step forward at all is a brave-hearted, inspiring story for the one in five Australian children sexually assaulted in some way before their 18th birthday.

She approached national child protection advocate Bravehearts and was able to tell her story and seek the support she needed to get through what was a traumatic ordeal.

“I know more than anyone how difficult it is to break the silence and escape the hold of a sex offender and if I can do it, so can any other child or adult survivor,” says Helen.

“I encourage any child out there that is going through something similar to what I went through, to step forward and seek justice.  I never thought I would be able to step forward but I thought about the other children that my father could potentially prey on and I knew it was the right thing to do.  It was the most difficult thing I have ever done but the most rewarding and satisfying.”

“If you don’t have a support system then contact Bravehearts – they can guide you through the processes and make it as easy as possible to tell your story and get the support you need.”

Robert Wells was convicted of 33 charges including indecent treatment of a child and incest.  He was sentenced to 11 years in prison, serving just six– a minimal punishment for an offence which caused lasting affects including lifelong post traumatic stress disorder.  He was recently released from prison and is living in Brisbane– the catalyst for Helen speaking out to ensure no other child suffers at the hands of her father.

Helen now lives in Melbourne and is forging her own artistic career.  She will donate artwork to Bravehearts for its annual White Balloon Day event on September 12.  White Balloon Day is Bravehearts signature awareness and fundraiser held during child protection week. This year the organisation is asking the big question to Australians – #whoRUprotecting?  For more information or to get involved, visit whiteballoonday.com.au.

Originally published on Mamamia: https://www.mamamia.com.au/white-balloon-day-2014/

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