'I don't want any child to feel the way I felt'
Caitlin Figueiredo has turned her traumatic childhood into a tool for helping others
By Keeley Henderson
July 30 2018
She’s just 23-years-old, but Caitlin Figueiredo has already met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and impressed Michelle Obama at the White House thanks to her tireless campaign work.
The Canberra local, who is an ambassador for the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, opened up to Practical Parenting about what led her to be so passionate about keeping children safe from harm.
"I know exactly what these kids feel, I know how scared they are, I have been in that situation and I don’t want any child to ever feel the way I felt," she explains.
Caitlin says she was abused for 10 years by a person very close to her family. Her parents, Sonya, 49 and Anthony, 51, had absolutely no idea what was going on.
"This person went out of their way to hurt me. I was locked in rooms for long periods of time without food or water.
"I remember being hit quite severely and being absolutely frightened when I was with this person."
Caitlin says her abuser tried to drown her in a public pool when she was just four years old.
"They basically just shoved me under water and I couldn’t get up. I remember this man grabbing me out of the water and helping me to breathe."
Another terrifying encounter happened after a large glass container was smashed and Caitlin was immediately blamed for it.
"This person grabbed a large shard of glass and started chasing me through the house. I managed to get to my room and slammed my body against the door, but they got in because they were a lot bigger than me. They held the glass up to my throat and basically threatened to cut me with it."
It was only after Caitlin started karate classes that the physical abuse stopped.
"The last time I was physically abused was when I was 12 years old and I was left alone in the house with this person. I was sleeping in a room and they broke in and got my hockey stick and I woke up with them standing above me, trying to swing. I managed to stop them and pin them against the wall. I said: 'If you ever come near me again I will stop you, I will hurt you,'" recalls Caitlin.
Though the physical violence was over, the psychological effects of the abuse was long-lasting and left Caitlin feeling suicidal.
"I did have a few attempts when I was a teenager before my parents realised something was very wrong and they were able to get me the help that I needed."
But it was years before Caitlin found the strength to tell her mother and father and brother Carl, 21, what she’d endured.
"I started telling them little bits and pieces when I was 15. But it wasn’t until I was around 17 or 18 that I started feeling a lot stronger in myself and I started opening up.
"They were in shock. How do you hear that your child has been hurt by someone that you trust?
"They were really supportive and gave me everything I needed to recover."
Caitlin had an epiphany when she was 18 which changed her life.
"Even though a lot of things happened to me as a child, I had the power of whether I was going to let that define me or not. I decided that even though what I went through was horrific, I was going to use that as my power and my strength to move forward.
"I started looking for ways that I could make a difference, using my story as a source of light for others so that they could heal and they could grow."
As well as studying for a double degree and working with AMF, Caitlin runs an organisation helping young people in the community upskill, she represents the voice of young Australians in the political sphere, and along with a friend she has recently created an organisation which teaches women empowerment self-defence. And that’s only the start!
Through all the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years I’ve had some amazing recognition, I got to visit the White House and meet Michelle Obama and I was named a global change maker back in 2016. I have recently come back from a trip overseas to meet Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace where I received a Queen’s young leader award. That was really exciting because I had a private audience with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex."
Reflecting on the abuse, Caitlin says: "It was one of the darkest points in my history, but now I am turning it around and it’s created a life that I could never have imagined."