WARNING - DISTRESSING CONTENT

There are times when Jillian Heneker cries herself to sleep.

She was only eight years old when she was sexually assaulted by a man known to her family.

Mrs Heneker and her three sisters grew up in Leonora, a remote town in Western Australia, 833kms northeast of Perth — a small town scared into silence.

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The sisters — together with many others — feared if they told their story they would be shamed and accused of lying.

So instead they said nothing at all, not even to each other.

But what happened in Leonora in the 1970s has stayed with the four sisters their entire lives.

A teary Mrs Henker, who is now 55-year-old, recalled the moment her life was turned upside down.

"All I remember is him putting me on the table in the bathroom. It was one of those old, hospital bedside tables, the metal ones," Mrs Heneker said of a member close to the family.

"It wasn't just that one time," she explained. "He sexually assaulted me a couple of times, but back then I thought it was the natural thing to happen — I didn't know what was right, or wrong."

It was only when she was 32 years old that she built the courage to tell her mother, news.com.au reported.

"I told her just before she passed away," Mrs Heneker said.

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Rosemary (far left), Barbara (middle), Sharon (far right). Photo / Supplied
Rosemary (far left), Barbara (middle), Sharon (far right). Photo / Supplied

To help other sexual abuse victims speak out, Mrs Heneker together with her three sisters Sharon Hume, 59 and Rosemary Bailey, 57 have shared their emotional and heartbreaking story in a documentary titled, Let The Speak.

Mrs Heneker also hopes it will allow for programs to be designed to support sexual assault victims.

"If we can save one or two people with our stories, that will make us happy. I am proud of my sisters for doing it," she said.

Mrs Heneker went on to explain that her concerned mother was upset with her for not having told her earlier.

"But I just felt she was going to think I was talking stupid."

After 30 years of marriage, Mrs Heneker and her husband, who share three children together, got a divorce.

She blames her past for the breakup.

"Growing up I thought I would never find a partner of any description, I still feel that way all the time and maybe that is why my marriages and relationships dissolved," she said.

"I know that there are a lot of people who are too scared to come forward with things like that — I am telling my story for the younger generation, and the older generation to find their confidence to talk about it."

For First Nations children who have suicided or attempted suicide, at least one in four have been sexually abused, said Gerry Georgatos, national co-ordinator of the National Indigenous Critical Service.

"The rates of sexual violence and assaults/abuse are higher in remote and regional Australia," he said, explaining.

"In one-third of child and youth suicides there had been sexual violence perpetrated," Mr Georgatos said.

"Early last year, in a remote community, three children, aged 6, 8 and 10 years, attempted suicide together, from the same tree, only to be saved by older children passing by."

Suicide prevention and poverty researcher Gerry Georgatos (back left), Indpendent film maker and former child sexual abuse victim Alex Hayes, together with (L) Sharon, Barbara, Jillian, Rosemary.
Suicide prevention and poverty researcher Gerry Georgatos (back left), Indpendent film maker and former child sexual abuse victim Alex Hayes, together with (L) Sharon, Barbara, Jillian, Rosemary.

Mrs Heneker said the issue is still prevalent today, with many young children suffering out of fear of not being able to speak up.

"A lot of people are suffering deeper than what I am which is why we need more people like Gerry to help those suffering get through it," Mrs Heneker said.

Mr Georgatos, who is also a suicide prevention and trauma recovery researcher, said he is

finding that the increasing child suicide toll intersects with sexual violence and abuses — and is developing a national support taskforce to work with affected children, with a focus on trauma recovery and care co-ordination.

For sisters Sharon Hume and Rosemary Bailey, it was particularly difficult to seek help at the time of the assaults as the perpetrator was someone particularly close to the family — and neither of them was aware of it happening to the other until they shared their story before the documentary.

"I just made myself strong so I didn't have to think about it," Mrs Hume said

"It was so hard for me to talk about because he was so close to the family. So I had to hold it all in and not say anything.

It wasn't until Mrs Hume was in her mid-30s when her aunty explained what had happened to both her and Mrs Bailey.

But it wasn't just one person, Mrs Hume was also molested by a good friend of her grandfather.

"He would always play around with the kids outside, but little did we know the type of person he was," Mrs Hume said.

Mrs Hume said it took her years to find the strength to tell her husband.

"I didn't know how to talk about it and I didn't what the reaction was going to be back then — I felt I couldn't even say it to my own husband," she said.

"After telling my story I don't feel like I am worthless anymore — I feel so strong emotionally and physically by telling my story."

The sisters are all in support of the Let Her Speak campaign. Pictured is (L-R) Sharon and Rosemary. Photo / Supplied
The sisters are all in support of the Let Her Speak campaign. Pictured is (L-R) Sharon and Rosemary. Photo / Supplied

Barbara McGilvray, 61, the eldest of the sisters also feels safe and secure after sharing her horrific experience.

"I told my story so that people know that they are not alone — and they too can talk about it, and report it," she said. "The importance of telling your story is so that does it doesn't follow on from family to family, generation to generation, have to break that cycle."

All four sisters are in support of news.com.au's Let Her Speak campaign which calls on the Tasmanian Government to scrap a controversial law that prevents survivors of rape and sexual assault from speaking out.

"The legislation needs to be changed. Sexual assault victims need to be able to tell their stories and fight for their rights, otherwise this is going to keep happening," Mrs Hume said, adding that the problem is only getting bigger.

The sisters shared their stories for the first time with the public and each other in a documentary titled Let Them Speak. It is commissioned by the Institute for Social Justice and Human Rights in conjunction with the forming National Sexual Abuse Trauma Recovery team. It is due for release in March 2019.

SEXUAL HARM - DO YOU NEED HELP?

If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone contact Safe to Talk confidentially:

• Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334
• Email support@safetotalk.nz
• For more info or to web chat visit www.safetotalk.nz

Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.