Unsilenced: Sexual abuse survivors speak out to give others the courage to break free

Sexual abuse has touched the lives of three generations of the Kingi whānau.

Renee Kingi's four children are all victims of incest, sexually violated by their father.

"When you're married to someone for so long and you've had children to them, you never imagine that they could harm your children in this way," Renee says.

The Kingi whānau are an example of Aotearoa's shameful statistics where one in three girls and one in seven boys experience sexual abuse by their 16th birthday.

"He's their Dad and it's easier to believe that he wouldn't do it," she says. 

Sonia Kingi, Renee's eldest daughter.
Sonia Kingi, Renee's eldest daughter. Photo credit: The Hui

The trauma of their childhood has affected each child differently. Renee's eldest daughter Sonia is now 20.

Rangatahi who experience sexual violence are three times more likely to attempt suicide, something Sonia also considered.

"There was a lot of times that I did want to end my life and everything, I had thoughts about it, but I just thought my siblings are more important to me; my Mum is more important to me, and I didn't want that for my Mum or my siblings, so I stayed strong for all of them," Sonia adds.

The whānau is now thriving and Kingi has found a loving relationship with new partner Weranika Te Koru.

Recovering from the trauma of intergenerational sexual abuse has been a long and emotional road for Renee and her whānau.

Kahira-Rata Olley runs a charity called Save Our Babies which raises awareness on domestic violence and sexual abuse. Through the work, she's taught Renee and her whānau the importance of sharing their story.

Meeting Kahira-Rata has played a significant role in helping them to heal.

"Kahira definitely gave us the tools that we needed to move forward and to speak," Renee says.

"When I first met her right from the beginning I told her my story and at that time I hadn't told anyone.  She is the one who got me talking to my own children and having family meetings, that's where all of the stuff started to come out over time."

As a part of her charity Kahira's created a collection of portraits entitled Unsilenced

Kahira organised intimate photo sessions with all of the participants.

"We've got whānau that are 50-plus, that bared all... and that was a very empowering moment to be able to be present there. I'm the lucky one, I get to be a part of these stories and journeys."

Sharing her own experiences of sexual abuse and domestic violence has given others the courage to break free.

Thirty-eight-year-old Hami Hita kept the abuse he suffered quiet most of his life. 

"I was ashamed, I didn't want people to know what I went through. I was embarrassed but then if I'm going to be quiet and embarrassed, then how am I going to help the younger generation in my whānau?

"I'm the only one in my whānau that is this far and is speaking about it. That's what gave me the mana to carry on and be a part of this kaupapa."

Breaking down their barriers and sharing their experiences as a whānau has been life-changing for Renee and her kids.

"We've definitely come together as a family. It's the only way that we can really cope to get through. As sad as it is, it brought a familiar sort of feeling and from that trauma, pulled ourselves to a better space, together."

Having endured abuse from a young age, Renee has not only managed to rebuild her life, she's now helping to better the lives of others. She's in the final stages of setting up a 12-unit homeless shelter in Rotorua.

"It really is a lifelong dream for our entire family.  It's not just myself, we've all worked through a journey and we've got to this space together."

For Sonia, it's about making a stand for rangatahi who have endured an abusive childhood.

"Remember that there's always someone out there who will talk to you and listen to your story. They'll help you to uplift yourself and find who you are as a person."

These survivors - silenced no more.