It has been over 40 years since Greek Australian Kathy Skettos, 53, fell victim to sexual harassment in the hands of a family ‘friend’ in NSW, but she says the trauma and pain of what she endured as a seven-year-old little girl, has still not left her.
“This man was a family friend and a well-respected member of the community. To this day most people don’t know that in actual fact this person was a disturbed human being, a monster, that used to expose himself to my sister and I, engaging in inappropriate sexual acts in front of us,” Ms Skettos told Neos Kosmos after deciding to share her story in order to raise awareness of sexual harassment and encourage other women to speak up, expose their predators and share their experiences without the fear of being judged.
“So many women have had similar – if not worst- experiences but they choose to remain silent. They keep the stories to themselves, worrying about what others might say or think of them, thinking ‘τί θα πει ο κόσμος’,” Ms Skettos said in reference to her childhood nightmare which continued for a few years before she finally found the courage to speak up.
A nightmare begins
Ms Skettos’ parents were two extremely hard-working people who spent most of their time working, trying to make ends meet to raise their young family in xenitia. To go to work, they would leave their two precious daughters at their “friend’s” house; little did they know that the people they trusted their own children with, were not the loving and innocent people they portrayed themselves to be.
“The sexual harassment took place randomly and on a regular basis. This man that everyone called θείο would come into the room and expose himself in front of my sister Mary and myself. He stayed there, not fazed in the slightest by the terrified look on our little faces and wouldn’t leave the room until he had finished what he had come to do. In the meantime, his wife was in another room, looking after her own son and other children.”
Ms Skettos said that eventually, the two sisters decided to tell their parents the truth about what was really going on in that house. The girls’ parents confronted the family friend, who denied everything and went so far as to accuse the two girls of making stories up.
“He swore on his son’s life that he hadn’t done what we were ‘accusing’ him of, and my parents believed him and encouraged us to keep quiet. In saying that, I don’t want anyone to put the blame on my parents. My mum and dad looked after us and loved us more than anything, but back then there was not much awareness regarding sexual abuse and harassment and parents had the tendency of sweeping everything under the carpet. They didn’t handle the situation as well as they could have, but they didn’t know any better,” Ms Skettos said.
The daughter of two migrants from Kastellorizo and Corinth, is now the mother of a teenage girl herself.
“My daughter is my everything, my whole existence and the reason I wake up every morning. I don’t want her or any other child to ever experience what I and other women have experienced. I pray that their path is different to ours and I am hopeful that times have now changed, and we are all so much more aware and willing to support one another,” she said.
She said that her experience with sexual harassment and abuse continued even after surviving the “uncle”, in line with studies which show that a cycle of re-victimisation and later abuse is a tragic consequence of child sexual abuse.
“I was 19-years-old, when I first fell in love with a boy. I was so innocent and naive, and I thought of him as the man of my dreams, the perfect human being until the abuse started. My boyfriend was fighting his own demons, coming from a dysfunctional family himself. He was an alcoholic who nearly killed me,” Ms Skettos said, adding that she had been forced to take out a restraining order against him so that she could move on.
“My parents were supportive of me during that time although they once again encouraged me to keep quiet to “avoid the shame, the humiliation and ρεζίλι that came with that stigma.”
Ms Skettos managed to get away and later married the real love of her life, finally breaking the cycle of abuse and trauma.
The couple now lives in Sydney together with their one and only daughter.
She reveals that she has also endured sexual harassment in the workplace and invites all women to speak up against those who feel they can abuse their position and power against another human being either in a relationship or at the workplace.
“I will not be silenced anymore. I refuse to protect those who violate the existence of innocent children and women. Please speak up. We are in this together. Let me tell you one thing; No one cares anymore about τί θα πει ο κόσμος,” Ms Skettos said.