Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

The sexual abuse continuum.


Don’t Look Back by Donna Williams My parents were underclass party people in the 60s and 70s, a criminal family with colorful friends: armed robbers, gun dealers, celebrities and entertainers and crooked cops. Bravado, power, endangerment, sadism, mockery, and at the very least laughing things off, came as standard.Assaulted at the age of 2, I confronted the family doctor as an adult to hear my medical records. When asking him about abuse, he replied, you mean ‘sexual’. It had taken me aback. 

Although I remembered the events from the underside of a pillow, remembered what it was to be ritualistically choked and suffocated, remembered being hurt, I even remembered finding it painful to walk and my mothers examination of my gynecology.

I had no idea the doctor had done an examination, that something had gone on record. How had taken me there? Her? My father? Someone else? Confronting my mother, I learned she wasn’t sure of which two pedophiles it might have been at the time as both had volunteered to go tuck me in in my bedroom.  Both were criminals.  One had been jailed around that time for sexually abusing his 4 year old daughter.  The other was jailed in the 80s for raping a child at knife point. Of course it never occurred to me that the abuser could have been a women.

In families who endanger their children, it’s almost as though ‘shit happens’ and that if that happens to someone already on the lowest family rung it’s just ‘life’. Sometimes sexual abuse has already happened to or around one of the parents and this doesn’t always cause them to protect, it can swing the other way too, sometimes endangerment arouses them, they’re almost compelled to set up replays of things they went through.

Around 1971, when I was eight, I was entrapped in my room with another party goer. A very high profile entertainer who happened to have been invited to a party there by a mutual friend in the car trade my father was part of. As the house teemed with people and the ‘psychotic’ daughter was sent up to her room in the attic, this person decided to wander.

I wasn’t 2 now, I wasn’t in bed, I could run. But being autistic I couldn’t scream or discuss. This comedian’s grooming of feigning playfulness and adventure just wasn’t computing. I had echolalia but had just begun to get simple functional speech and it would be years more before it’d be functionally interactive speech. So I did what I could, I skirted away from his hands, I wriggled and scampered and jumped wildly on my bed, giggling with agitation and nervousness. These things I remembered directly. The other half of this episode I had blanked out much of my life. The rest, in fragments, wasn’t pretty. I had tried to flail and bite. The . I was overpowered, perhaps in panic, perhaps because the fighting further aroused him. The man was noticed as missing, perhaps thanks to his notoriety. I was told later by a family member that he was caught exiting the stairs to my room, that the cavalry took him out back, punched him up and threw him out. But when I see his face in the media, I see beyond what the public sees.

At 12 the son of a family friend was a few years older than me. Bored kids at family parties seek to break the boredom and teenage boys tend to have one style of breaking that at the top of their priority list if the means to it is available. He arrived in my room, egged me on to do the party trick I’d already been taught as a seven year old when given a bottle of champagne for my birthday. I downed the drink the way those at the parties often did.

It was beer and once I was drunk, he taught me that I was a tool to break his boredom. Because I couldn’t run, didn’t run, because I didn’t squeal or hit, I had my first experience of being a sexual object, a dirtied piece of rag, but one momentarily valued nevertheless, momentarily, but enough to be as confusing as the alcohol itself.

For the next few years before escaping that house, he’d come back to break his boredom, but I’d skirt about, jump on the bed, push and squeal and head out of this corral which was my room in the attic. Only when asleep did he trap me. I’d wake to find his nude torso next to my face, trying new ways to break his boredom. But there was no way he could convince me this was ‘fun’. I’d scamper.

At 15, I was living part time with my family, part time between the beds and floors of four teenagers from my school community. I slept under one bed, beside another, tolerated in the bunk bed of another, and given my own camping bed at the one’s who called themselves my foster family.

I was more than a homeless kid, though, I was by now in the workforce, on my unsuccessful way to having 30 jobs in 3 years and before I had yet become a domestic prostitute for 10 years. I had never had consensual sex, unlike some of my friends. And he was skating, in his 20s, popular, all the popular kids milled about him. I was a loner, a social dreg with little more than litanies as language and haunted by labels like psychotic which came with a hospital assessment at the age of 2 (for issues not related to sexual abuse) and the word disturbed which had followed me since mid childhood. Someone passed me a message with a chuckle. I was invited to a party. Me? Me!

I went to the address. He answered the door. There was no party. But he handed me a beer, played it cool. Wow, he really did want to be my friend, he didn’t even touch me. Here, have another. He was so casual, clearly there was no threat. Too drunk to walk let alone run, I flailed against him removing my clothes. I clung to them but they were cast away. I hadn’t known men in their 20s got bored too, and that my ultimate social worth would never amount to being more than a sexual tool but this was the classroom that reinforced that lesson.

When his friend arrived, he offered me as seconds. The friend waved away the offer and as more friends arrived the atmosphere changed to something so dark it took me 8 years to dare remember it. His friends realised my age, and that he’d be heading to jail. Incredulous at his stupidity, they ranted at him, ‘she’s jail bait’. Then they decided to scare me into never speaking about it, ever. They took turns slapping my face. They punched me in the stomach. Finally they hung me out of the window of their 15th floor housing commission flat and threatened to drop me. They then brought me back in from the window and marched me, staggering to the elevator, shoved me in and pressed the down button.

I went to my friend’s (a friend was anyone who tolerated me) house, distraught, confused, in shock, a swollen face, a black eye. He was a gay guy, only 16, the son of a chronic alcoholic single father who lived with an older special needs sister I learned years later he had watched his father abuse for years. He took one look at me and sent me away with the words, ‘whatever happened to you, you probably asked for it’. At my job in a storeroom, fellow workers asked about my face. I couldn’t say anything.

I didn’t say anything even to myself about it for 8 years. Finally I told a counselor who told me, to my surprise, that I’d been raped. Rape? Isn’t that something at knife point to nice well brought up women in business suits dragged off suburban streets and down lane ways? But by then, 8 years later, it was too late. I had by then accepted my lot and lived with men in de-facto relationships from the age of 15 (a few months after the event) in domestic prostitution, exchanging sex for a roof over my head and taking the consequences of being everything from discardable social garbage to charity case.

And it was in my 20s, as a student that I thought there was a place beyond this other world. I’d gone back to education with the help of a shrink and made my bedraggled way to university where I could one day maybe get a job in an office, wear a uniform, no longer have to have bosses who would hold my lack of education over me and the fact they could replace me at 18 with a 15 year old at a cheaper wage if I didn’t let them touch, and grope and ‘help me up the stairs’. But universities have compulsory aspects of assessment, and some of these can entail private meetings with a superior in their office.

When I sat in this room, I felt 9 again. When he prompted ‘I’ve worked you out…I think you were a child prostitute, like in that film, ‘Pretty Baby’, I changed the subject, drew attention to the paraphernalia in the room in a fast string of manic banter. He stopped leaning on the wall across from me where he had his pelvis thrust like some James Dean figure, fingers though his belt rings, watching my reaction, and crossed the 5 feet to where I sat on a seat. He put his hands, either side of my head like in those cop interrogation scenes on cop shows, and brought his face in front of mine, his moving mouth six important inches off my mouth and drawled “I’m not trying to shaft you, you know, Donna”. I inquired about getting another superior, could I swap please. The office staff told me it would be very hard at this stage, it could jeopardize my assessment. Was there a reason?

What could I say? I hadn’t been raped. He hadn’t plied me with alcohol. He hadn’t touched me. He’d used sexualised language but not sexual language. He’d talked about my clothes, tried to glean my personal history through jibes and prompting, he’d used strange drawn out strategic speech and postures I’d seen in cop shows and cowboy films and film noir from the 40s and 50s.

He had shown intense personal interest in my past and private life, but did so as though it was his job, his task to do so. I felt his interest, it was palpable, but it was as though he was waiting for MY reaction. But for what purpose, I had no idea. But to my knowledge he hadn’t overtly abused me. What was going on?

After graduation, I got notification of my graduation ceremony. I didn’t go. The paper felt dirtied but I couldn’t quite tell why. Wasn’t I also made to feel ‘special’? That someone had ‘cared’ enough to take a deep personal interest in me? Weren’t they trying to get to know me, to break through, kind of like a psychiatrist might, except more sensually, personally (this person was not a qualified psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor)?

After leaving university I visited a woman who had had the same superior. She had a crush on him and was excited to ask me about having also been his student. She wanted to understand her feelings, why she felt so aroused in his office, whether the things he said to her were personal or did he do this with others. She excitedly told me the sexualised things he’d say, asking me if I thought he was waiting for her to make the first move, that maybe, as a married man, he couldn’t make the first move. She waited, excitedly, for my opinion.

Then I understood that I was not the enigma he’d told me I was, the mystery he was trying to unravel and break through to. I realised that boredom doesn’t stop with teenagers or men in their 20s. That it doesn’t stop with uneducated people, ignorant people. That just maybe, those in high positions with much more to lose, just find more subtle means of doing similar things.

It takes a long time to learn about the social world, even longer if you are autistic. Having problems processing information in real time misleads people into thinking you will never understand or have the nous to express disturbing experiences, especially if they were done masterfully, subtly, simultaneously grooming you. But sexual abuse is a continuum from assault and rape into overt and subtle sexual harassment. But subtle doesn’t mean less damaging. It is just as confusing because it plays with the recipient’s mind, tries to lure them to take the bait and, if they do, convince them they have been complicit, consensual in the abuse of power the perpetrator has had over them.

I’m a big girl now, 45 this year and able to look back and see the continuum. I could have come from any background, educated, uneducated, protected or left open to abuse, autistic or non-spectrum.

I came to have a healthy, happy marriage, to discover my own sexuality in my 30s (which I wrote of in Everyday Heaven). There is life after this stuff, selfhood enlightened by it, not chained to or defined by it. I don’t see myself as victim or survivor. I see my story in an ocean of stories filled with social dynamics and for a time, mine happened to be pretty inhumane. But as a Taoist, the dark illuminates the light, and bad experiences gave me many gifts of eventual insight, an awareness of wide social diversity, and the guts to look at the seedy aspects of life and not leave them in a shame basket where others cannot learn from my experiences.

Donna Williams *)

author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.


In 2009 I began to have PTSD episodes about sexual abuse. In Feb 2010, aged 47, in addition to my diagnosis of autism I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. The childhood memories of physical and emotional abuse and the above sexual abuse had been remembered most of my life and certainly by my 20s after flashbacks and PTSD. Unfortunately, I learned that what happened was the tip of the iceberg, and as PTSD episodes enlightened me, the jigsaw puzzle had largely come together by Nov 2010.