Family's reaction to rape: 'You can't tell anyone about it'

 

A sexual assault survivor was offered hush money in return for police repaying her legal fees after a bungled investigation that saw her wrongly slapped with an AVO and significantly traumatised.

But Rima Turk has refused to be silenced.

The brave mother-of-three is sharing her harrowing experience with the criminal justice system to highlight the odds that are stacked against victims and to advocate for change.

The four-year, flawed investigation into Mrs Turk's allegations prompted an apology last year from a senior policewoman, who promised there would never be "a Rima Turk case again".

 

Rima Turk reflects on her battle for justice for abuse dating back to when she was a child. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Rima Turk reflects on her battle for justice for abuse dating back to when she was a child. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Born and raised in Sydney, Mrs Turk had a largely idyllic childhood as one of five siblings to migrant parents.

Religion played a significant part in her household, as did the strong cultural attitudes that come with growing up in a large Lebanese family.

Many weekends were spent at gatherings, including at Mrs Turk's grandparents' home.

It was there, between the ages of six and nine, Mrs Turk alleges she was sexually abused by two men she knew. As a child, Mrs Turk saw two sides to her abusers - the personas portrayed in public and the groomers she came to know when no one was looking.

When Mrs Turk was about 15 and at Mount St Joseph Catholic College at Milperra, her teacher spoke to students about sexual assault and paedophilia.

"And it was in that moment I was like: 'Oh my God, this is me'," the 47-year-old recalled.

"I thought: 'I'm allowed to speak about it'."

Rima Turk (at right), aged about six years old, with family members.
Rima Turk (at right), aged about six years old, with family members.

She went to the principal and revealed what had happened to her as a child.

At home, Mrs Turk began to tell her mother about one of the perpetrators before she was shut down.

"In the moment Mum was just bawling her eyes out," she said.

"She just looked at me and said: 'You've got to forgive him'. She told me: 'You can't tell anyone about this, no one is to know'."

It was an attitude Mrs Turk would come up against time and time again.

She was asked why she was causing a fuss, why couldn't she just forget it and take it to the grave?

From her teenage years, Mrs Turk attempted to bury the memories of her abuse.

But the trauma manifested in other ways - chronic fatigue, digestive issues, insomnia and relationship problems.

In her 20s, Mrs Turk disclosed the abuse to her husband.

He, along with Mrs Turk's brother, who worked in communications for the Catholic Church during the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, were unequivocally supportive.

Mrs Turk said she wanted an apology from her mother for the way she had been dismissed, an acknowledgment that she was not at fault.

Rima Turk, aged about six.
Rima Turk, aged about six.

In late 2016, Mrs Turk and her husband walked into Riverwood Police Station to report what had occurred decades prior.

"I kept thinking: 'What is everyone going to think'?" she said. "The immense shame consumed me.

"When the officer asked me what had actually taken place, the words wouldn't even come out and I was physically blocking my ears."

Historical sexual assault cases are challenging to prosecute and there is no time limitation on reporting.

But it is a daunting task for any victim to dredge up the suppressed memories and commit to a journey through the justice system.

So many don't report.

After reporting her allegations, Mrs Turk weighed up whether she would make a statement.

Weeks passed with no word from police, and her alleged abusers - who denied the allegations and refused to apologise - found out she had made a report.

Mrs Turk ignored the messages her alleged perpetrators left on her voicemail but was bombarded with comments from extended family, accusing her of bringing shame on them.

Mrs Turk mentally prepared herself to provide a statement but the exhausting process was drawn out over eight months.

Rima Turk: ‘Police put me through the wringer for four years.’ Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Rima Turk: ‘Police put me through the wringer for four years.’ Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Sometimes the detective didn't show up or postponed at the last minute, setting Mrs Turk on an emotional rollercoaster.

"It was in dribs and drabs, and every time I'd leave that station to go home, it was like that I couldn't even get off the couch," she said.

"It killed me. I'd be asking 'when can I come in? I just want this over and done with'."

Over the course of Mrs Turk's investigation, she filed complaints against three officers and, while the case changed hands, little changed in the way her case was treated.

All of the complaints, dealing with huge delays, poor communication and insensitive attitudes, were sustained, and there are marks against the work histories of those officers.

It was through a support group that Mrs Turk was referred to Pip Rae, a former police officer who now specialises in helping victims to navigate the criminal justice system.

By 2019, Ms Turk wanted answers, not only from the police, who "made her believe" charges would be laid, but also from her family.

In May, she decided to confront her grandparents, whom she suspected knew of her alleged abuse and were protecting the perpetrators.

Before visiting their home with her parents, Mrs Turk called the detective on her case and told him of her plan. She told her grandfather she had been sexually abused as a child.

The 90-year-old grandfather, speaking in Arabic, then called his granddaughter a prostitute.

"Those words were equally as bad as what the perpetrator had done," Mrs Turk said.

She was also labelled a "scorned woman".

Mrs Turk's mother, who eventually apologised for not supporting her daughter, began screaming in her daughter's defence.

Distraught, Mrs Turk left and immediately called the detective again to tell him what had transpired. That night, he called her back.

Her grandparents had reported her and police were issuing Mrs Turk with an apprehended violence order. The officer didn't bother to ask Ms Turk for her side of the story.

Shocked and confused, Mrs Turk spent the following six months forking out $26,000 on legal fees fighting the AVO.

The day before the matter was due to be heard in Burwood Local Court, the prosecution agreed to withdraw it. But the final blow was yet to come.

In late 2020, the Director of Public Prosecutions advised police that charges against Mrs Turk's abusers should not be laid.

As Ms Rae explained, the length of time it took police to investigate the matter - four years - had created periods of doubt. The presence of an AVO between Mrs Turk and the abuser's family also muddied the waters.

"I was in shock and I couldn't comprehend it," Mrs Turk said.

"(Police) put me through the wringer for four years."

In November last year, the head of Campsie Police, Detective Superintendent Kerrie Lewis, sat on Mrs Turk's couch and offered a heartfelt apology.

"She said: 'We will make sure there will never be another Rima Turk case happen in our office again'," Mrs Turk said. "That, to me, that admittance they had failed me, that was big. I felt she was sincere."

NSW Police offered to pay Mrs Turk back the $26,000 she spent on legal fees, but it came with a gag clause and a five-day deadline. It also released NSW Police from any liability, including for the suffering caused by the investigation.

"It seemed like they were saying: 'Hey we've got power and control over whom we see fit and how we want things to pan out'," she said.

Mrs Turk declined their offer and is currently seeking legal advice.

She hopes her story will highlight the need for a cultural shift and a greater focus on education for police officers.

A NSW Police spokesman would not comment on the case as the issue of costs was still under consideration.

However, police confirmed detectives were offered a voluntary sexual assault course that "reinforced treating survivors with respect, belief and compassion".



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