A Queensland MP has shared her harrowing story as a victim of child sexual abuse in a bid to raise awareness and inspire other victims to speak out.
WARNING: This story contains graphic details that readers may find distressing.
Labor Member for Macalister Melissa McMahon told Queensland parliament she had been "chased by demons" since being "repeatedly raped and abused" as a child – but said she would "recover loudly so others don't die silently".
Ms McMahon was elected to Macalister in November 2017, which is centred on Beenleigh, south of Brisbane.
She is currently a member of Parliament's Mental Health Select Committee and the Crime and Corruption Committee.
Ms McMahon told the house she would seek a leave of absence from parliament, but did not reveal from when or for how long.
"My recovery is not done," she said.
"I know that in standing up here today … will inevitably have ramifications for my own wellbeing in the short term.
Ms McMahon told the house she was first abused at the age of five when "those who were responsible for my supervision after school were derelict in their duty".
"I was subsequently left in the care of a group of older teenagers," she said.
"Most afternoons I was shopped around the neighbourhood to other teenagers and men, often in exchange for a can of soft drink.
"I still vividly remember the first and the second time this occurred to me but mercifully after that it is a blur."
'Look pure evil in the face'
She said her family's "nomadic lifestyle" moved them on, but "the worst was yet to come" and at the age of nine she "would look pure evil in the face for the first time".
"Courtesy of our church, I came into the company and under the supervision of the last person on Earth who should ever be granted such a position — a child sex offender recently released for a particularly heinous child sex crime," she said.
"They declined to notify my family, with whom he was placed again. My hours after school became a personal hell.
"I cannot quite put into words the things that happened to me or what I was made to do."
Before Ms McMahon was elected to parliament in 2017, Ms McMahon enlisted in the Australian army in 1994 at the age of 18.
She then joined the Queensland Police Service in 1997, attaining the rank of sergeant, with her last posting working in the Domestic, Family Violence and Vulnerable Persons Unit.
"The sense of dread that I feel whenever an Argos investigation uncovers new amounts of child exploitation material never goes away," she told the house.
While working as a police officer, Ms McMahon continued her army service through the reserves, reaching the rank of major. She was deployed on overseas operations twice from 2008, leading specialist teams in field roles.
'Exhaustion reached its limit'
Ms McMahon said she was "saved" again when her family moved, but she had been haunted by the experience for 40 years.
She said last year her "exhaustion reached its limit".
"My facade cracked … and feelings that I had meticulously tucked away and locked in a box deep down kept threatening to come to the surface," Ms McMahon said.
"I felt like my skin was inside out. I felt raw and exposed walking around.
"I sought [help] where I could — my GP, a counsellor or psychologist, friends and colleagues … [but] earlier this year, I did hit rock bottom."
Ms McMahon described "walking out of the PA hospital barefoot with what is left of my prescription medication" and "giving the answers I knew I had to give to avoid being admitted to a mental health unit".
"Paramedics and police were called to my home," she said.
"My children had found me unresponsive.
"I was resuscitated.
"For the unbearable stress this placed on my family late that night, I am truly sorry."
Authenticity the way forward
Ms McMahon told the house her way forward would be authenticity, "to let go of the facade … acknowledging my past truthfully and fully".
"I will talk about these things so maybe someone else won't wait 40 years to talk," she said.
Ms McMahon said she was "more determined than ever to continue to contribute as a member of this government".
She was congratulated on her bravery by members of both her party and the opposition.