CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses child sexual abuse.
Jess Peil was 14 years old when it happened.
Her family was holidaying in Forster with one of her dad’s friends from America when Jess went to her room for some space.
It was there he sexually abused her.
When the man died many years later, her mum even raised it with her.
“‘Did he ever do anything to you?’ she asked me after the funeral. She admitted to me then she had always felt uncomfortable around him too.”
She never really thought more of the experience until she was nominated for the ACT Local Hero award as part of the ACT’s Australian of the Year Awards in 2021 for her work raising money for sex abuse survivors.
Since 2018, she has joined hundreds of others around Australia, running seven consecutive marathons across seven states over seven days.
The annual ‘Bravehearts 777’ raises funds to help protect kids from sexual abuse, with each runner accruing an average of $10,000. Over the past years, more than $2.15 million has been forwarded to counselling and support services for survivors, as well as safety education programs across Australia.
“This year, we’re hoping to raise the stakes and fundraise more than $250,000,” Bravehearts CEO Alison Geale says.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals 2021 had the largest number of sexual assaults reported to police in 29 years. Those under the age of 18 accounted for almost two-thirds of the 31,000 sexual assaults reported in 2021.
“Now more than ever, we need brave hearts across Australia to step up and fight against child sexual abuse.”
The marathon is open to all ages, with distances of 7, 14, 21 and 42 kilometres. It kicks off on Monday, 26 June, in Perth, working its way through Australia’s capital cities and culminating on the Gold Coast on Sunday, 2 July.
Jess will join at least five other Canberrans in running 42 km every day (for a total of 295 km over the week), including here in Canberra on Saturday, 1 July. The route takes in the ‘Bridge to Bridge walk’ around Lake Burley Griffin, starting and ending at Rond Terrace.
“People can come out and do one lap or more – whatever they want,” she says.
“It also makes it easier if there are people to cheer us along because it’s day six of the week and we’re all pretty tired.”
Jess first heard about the marathon through a friend but only picked up the running shoes when her husband Richard – and co-founder of Anytime Fitness Australia – expressed interest in taking part.
“He’s more of a cyclist, but we worked as a team and in that first year alone, we raised just under $65,000,” Jess says.
“I really like being able to make conversation about why we’re running, and it’s pretty amazing how many people have come out of the woodwork with their own stories.”
Her ambition is to make “conversations more comfortable” by using money to buy more help for survivors.
“There needs to be more protection for people who have survived the abuse, and less scrutiny, because then these people don’t come forward to talk,” she says.
“I get frustrated because there is so much taxpayer money spent on protecting the perpetrators in prison – because they’re the most hated demographic in there – yet the person who’s had the abuse against them gets almost nothing.”
Jess is a mum herself, with three children aged between 15 and 20.
“They’re also a motivator for me to keep going with this.”
Support Jess Peil and the other Canberra runners on the Bravehearts 777 website.