How I captured a monster’s confession and turned my pain into power

Zarisha Bradley is a television crime reporter,telling important stories every night. Now,she tells her own story of a little girl subjected to horrific sexual abuse and how she sent the monster to prison.

I do not recall the first time. From as old as I can remember,I was repeatedly sexually abused by a monster who married into my family.

This was someone who was there when I took my first steps and attended every family Christmas. A trusted figure who always appeared to be generous,bearing lollies and chocolates for children. But underneath the family-man facade,he was a child predator. A child rapist and master manipulator fooling everyone around him.

Nine News Perth reporter Zarisha Bradley.

Nine News Perth reporter Zarisha Bradley.Supplied

This adult,who was meant to be looking after me,committed sickening acts against me for almost a decade during my childhood in Queensland.

The abuse was disgusting,humiliating and soul-destroying.

I look back at photos of myself as a six-year-old,in first grade,and want to hug that little girl. To tell her it’s OK to speak up.

But the fear that I felt as I was threatened,“don’t tell anyone”,forced me to keep the cruel secret deeply hidden. The fear of me getting into trouble. The fear of saying these words out loud. The fear of breaking up my family. The fear of unknown repercussions kept that little girl quiet,for far too long.

The day I told my mum,in my final year of high school,is a day I will never forget. It took everything in me for the words to even come out. I will never forget the pain of watching her break down in front of me. It was as if her whole world had just fallen apart. I will never forget how she blamed herself. But no one was responsible for these crimes,except him.

I thought that the hardest part was now over,now I’d told my mum. I thought,we would go to the police and they would lock him up. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to come next.

My mother immediately rushed me to Bundaberg Police Station,where I was interviewed by detectives for almost two hours.

The thought of telling my dad was terrifying,knowing he would want to hurt the person who hurt his first-born daughter. At this point,my abuser was living just a kilometre away from my family’s home in Gin Gin.

I remember how uncomfortable,overwhelmed and unsettled I felt at the police station. The officers needed me to describe the incidents in the finest detail,every time I was assaulted by this monster,right down to what kind of clothes I was wearing on each day.

Zarisha during an interview with police.

Zarisha during an interview with police.Supplied

But how could I possibly remember when it happened almost every time I was left alone with him since the beginning of my memory?

It was like opening a can of countless worms buried deep underground for years. A can of worms I had tried very hard to forget I had buried.

I now understand why the police needed me to recall,in great detail,every possible bit of abuse that I could – and I’m grateful they and I persisted. If speaking up isn’t hard enough,getting a conviction in the Australian court system is even tougher.

I remember a detective asking if I would be willing to confront my abuser in a recorded phone call to try and get a confession. That terrified me beyond words. But as the eldest of four sisters,it was a fear I forced myself to overcome. I agreed to do it for them.

There I was at Gin Gin Police Station,alone in a room,shaking uncontrollably. My mother and high school chaplain waited outside.

I had spent the nights prior trembling about this vital moment on the phone,and how I would find the words to come out. The monster had no idea I had told my family,or spoken to police at this point.

“Why did you do it?”,I eventually asked him with tears streaming down my face.

“I don’t know. I don’t know darling. I don’t really know,” he replied,unaware the conversation was being recorded.

Zarisha when she was just a schoolgirl.

Zarisha when she was just a schoolgirl.Supplied

“I want to try and put it behind me,but if it becomes a real issue. Well,I’ll just move away,” he continued.

“I know it was wrong. Alright? I know it was wrong,what happened.”

The expressions of regret and apologies were repeated.

“I regret it every day that it happened. So I regret it,whatever happened,yes,every day. And I can’t,the thing is,I can’t change it now darling. I just can’t change it. And I can’t do anything about it,” he said.

He admitted his wife would be “devastated if she knew”.

By the time I hung up,my entire being felt like it was on autopilot. I was a complete blubbering mess in a state of shock.

I remember an officer telling me how brave I was,assuring me,“don’t worry - you’ll probably never have to see him again”.

But the very next day after school I went to work,at our small town’s IGA deli. And he turned up. He never spoke a word,instead he just stared at me from the other side of the counter. My heart thumping out of my chest,I walked into the cold room freezer and burst into tears.

On the night of his arrest,I did not sleep at all.

He was charged with five serious offences including rape (digital),indecent treatment of a child and maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child with a circumstance of aggravation.

About 87 per cent of sexual assault cases go unreported in Australia. Of those reported cases,only one in 10 results in a conviction.

Yet,he was granted bail straight away.

The following morning,I received a phone call from his wife,who I thought would leave him immediately. Instead,she pleaded with me to drop the charges in exchange for money.

This call completely broke me. My mum held me as I cried.

I now believe his wife was also a victim in that moment,manipulated over many years. Eventually,she did leave him,and I’ve since forgiven her.

Despite all the evidence the police had,he still denied everything and dragged me through a jury trial.

The blatant lies he told to the court made me upset and angry. The refusal to take any accountability for all the pain and suffering he had caused me and my family,hurt.

The court process,especially as a minor,is traumatic. I was forced to endure relentless cross-examination on the witness stand by his defence lawyer.

It was like re-living the nightmare yet again,aggressive and persistent suggestions – assertions “it never happened” – while the perpetrator watched my every move.

I had to be dragged through hell and back for his lies to come undone. I was the child,he was the adult and here I was thrust into a ruthless justice system just trying to tell the truth.

I tried so hard to be strong but at one point,the tears started to build,and I felt myself begin to break down.

How could this man sit there and terrorise me like this? He knew exactly what he did to me.

Thankfully,the jury saw through his lies and found him guilty on every charge. He was sentenced to 5½ years jail in 2016.

He tried appealing and that failed. The judge rejected his final attempt to escape responsibility,describing my recorded phone call as a “powerful piece of evidence”.

After the sentence,my mum called to let me know the local newspaper had covered the trial in horrific detail.

While my name was suppressed as a minor,it was not hard for a small town,with a population of just over 1000 at the time,to put two and two together.

The shame and embarrassment was immense. I never want to make a victim feel the way I did reading those articles,and that’s stuck with me every time I have the privilege of sharing a survivor’s story.

Despite everything I went through,I still consider myself one of the lucky ones. I don’t know how I would have coped if the verdict was different,but that’s the reality for so many Australian girls and women.

About 87 per cent of sexual assault cases go unreported in Australia. Of those reported cases,only one in 10 results in a conviction.

I am among the 1.5 per cent of Australians who actually get to see their abuser go to jail.

It was a huge part of my healing process that I will never take for granted. Nor will I take for granted the power I have to expose this child predator now via this column,and the choice I’m afforded to publicly speak out.

His name is Charlie Faulkner. While serving his sentence,I have been told that he suffered a stroke,leaving him using a wheelchair.

I am so grateful I can turn my pain into power. I just hope one day it’s easier for Australian children to take down their abusers in a courtroom.

I’d like to thank Queensland Police and Detective Senior Constable Hayley Self who was the investigating and arresting officer at the time. She was such a powerful female role model for me as a scared little girl and helped take back the control stolen from me.

If you or anyone you know needs support,you can contact1800RESPECT,the national sexual assault,domestic and family violence counselling service,on 1800 737 732.

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is a reporter with 9 News Perth.

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