Unmasking a monster: Sarah Monahan's tale of abuse
LIKE many abuse survivors, Sarah Monahan finds a certain cathartic solace in words. The simple process of putting pen to paper empowering her to lay her darkest demons to rest - albeit in the most public of ways.
"I've spent two years on the book," the Australian-born US resident says of her autobiography Allegedly.
The 271-page paperback, released this week, is a warts-and-all account of the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of Robert Lindsay Hughes while she was a child star on the Aussie hit comedy Hey Dad..!.
"There were days when I would cry but at the same time writing the book was very healing," Monahan recalls, her soft Aussie drawl laced with a slight American twang.
"I got to get the trauma out.
"It was empowering finally getting to say everything in my own words and getting things out that had never been said before."
It's been a bitter-sweet week for Monahan as she hits the obligatory publicity trail selling her life's work from one side of Australia to the other.
The joy of being a published author is tempered though by the burden of back-to-back media interviews forcing her to re-live the darkest days of her existence.
Perhaps this media juggernaut is why the 39-year-old appears remarkably matter of fact about her traumatic past.
"I thought the (sexual) abuse was a normal part of the television industry," she says.
"I thought that was just the way it was."
Of course, there is nothing normal about what happened to Monahan, who won the role of Hughes's TV daughter Jenny in 1986.
The Hey Dad..! producers loved her impish grin, big blue yes, long blonde hair and adorable dimples.
Her beauty was angelic and she was smart to boot - a clever natural actor who could find her way around a script and a television set like a seasoned professional.
Best of all, the audience found her irresistible when the program started broadcasting into their lounge rooms in 1987.
Sadly, she also caught the sickening eye of the well-respected acting patriarch of the Hey Dad..! cast who went out of his way to make sure he had access to the slight-framed child at every opportunity.
BOOK EXTRACT: "I HEARD Robert come out of his dressing room. I looked up at him and he looked at me. He undid his belt and his fly and dropped his pants. He touched himself. He even swayed side to side a little. He kept looking at me in the mirror, like he was waiting for me to react. I knew exactly what he was doing. He was flashing me. I wasn't about to let him put that ugly thing anywhere near me, or in me. I was so grossed out and a little bit terrified."
"I had no choice," she says of enduring the convicted sex offender's constant terrifying attentions whenever she was on the set without a chaperone.
"It was work and I had to deal with it and get on with the job.
"The rest of the show I enjoyed - I loved all of the crew and the cast and so it was a balance between dealing with him and still enjoying everything else."
Hughes's predilection for small girls was public knowledge in the Hey Dad..! circle and it seemed many of the cast and crew knew he had a soft spot for Monahan.
But no-one lifted a finger to stop the actor molesting their little colleague.
"Everyone used to sit around and discuss it," said Monahan, whose father died when she was a child and whose mother was distant and often did not accompany her at the Channel 7 studio.
"It was well known at the time what was going on - we weren't allowed to speak about it publicly.
"We were very hushed up."
Monahan knows that if just one person had spoken to police, her abuser would have been stopped in his tracks.
This collective silence is a heavy burden she has endured for 30 years.
Yet she shoulders that weight with aplomb, even acknowledging that she may have made the same decision to stay quiet as her fellow cast members.
"I've gone through periods where I have been very angry," she says.
"And then I think they (the other cast members) were also very young and it's very easy at that age to be manipulated by the industry into staying silent.
"I hold no ill feelings there, because they did what they could.
"I don't know what I would have done in that same position.
"You'd like to think that you'd have done more but at the same time you're on the highest rating TV show in the country and it's a very, very small industry.
"If you're being threatened that you'll never work again, do you risk not ever working again?"
Hey Dad..! ended in 1994 - and with the final episode, Monahan was finally free of the monster who stole her childhood.
"I started to live a normal life," she says.
But the Hey Dad..! years cut short what could have been a life-time career in front of the camera for the talented actor.
"I went on to a couple of sets but I just didn't enjoy it," she says of dipping her toes back into the TV industry in the years that followed the abuse.
"So I decided to step away… to find something else to do with my life."
In May, 2014, Hughes was convicted and jailed for a minimum of six years on 10 counts of sexual and indecent assault of four girls in the 1980s and 1990s.
Monahan was one of the victims who testified at the trial that seemed to capture Australia's attention.
Hughes' lawyers tore apart her character and questioned every aspect of her life, trying to sway her from her story.
And in the court of public opinion, she copped a massive hammering as thoughtless social media trolls lambasted her for "attention grabbing".
"It was hard - it was very hard because everybody had an opinion," Monahan recalls.
"You shouldn't look at the internet when you're going through something like this but of course you do.
"People were quite feral in their opinions. It's not like I was doing it for publicity - I didn't want to be on TV - so I don't see why I would be going through this trial for publicity.
"I don't understand why people cannot take what people say at face value, why there always has to be an ulterior motive."
The public roasting was harsh, but Monahan walked away with her head held high, vindicate and proud to have taken an important lesson from the experience.
"It taught me a lot about humanity," she says.
"It taught me also that when someone says something to just believe them, take them at face value and to trust them."
While Hughes will eventually be free - he is due for parole in 2020 - Monahan will never escape the horrors he forced on her.
She says until she spoke out she had no idea how pervasive child sexual abuse was.
"They say one in five children in Australia will be abused," Monahan says, the statistics clearly ingrained into her psyche. "They say one person can molest 60 people before someone speaks out."
By telling her own story, Monahan hopes to give other victims the strength to name their abusers.
"Once I came forward, it's just unbelievable how many people told me they were abused," she says.
"I hope kids will one day be able to say 'somebody did this to me' and others will believe them and make sure there is no shame put on them for naming it.
"There will always be bad people - you can't eradicate them. But hopefully we will put more systems in place so kids feel like they can say 'stop' and they feel empowered to seek help and they don't have to endure this abuse for years like I did."
*Allegedly, by Sarah Monahan is published by New Holland Publishers and is available now.