Jeni Haynes: The woman who created 2500 personalities to survive

There was only one woman in the witness stand that day but out of her came six people prepared to testify about the extreme abuse she had suffered.

“I walked into court, I sat down, I made the oath, and then a few hours later I got back into my body and walked out,” Jeni Haynes told the BBC.

As a child, Jeni was repeatedly raped and tortured by her father, Richard Haynes, in what Australian police say is one of the worst child abuse cases in the country.

To cope with the horror, her mind used an extraordinary tactic – creating new identities for her to detach from the pain. The abuse was so extreme and so persistent, she says she ultimately generated 2,500 distinct personalities to survive.

And in the landmark trial in March, Jeni confronted her father to present evidence against him through her personalities, including a four-year-old girl named Symphony.

It’s believed to be the first case in Australia, and perhaps the world, where a victim with diagnosed Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) – or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – has testified in their other personalities and secured a conviction.

“We weren’t scared. We had waited such a long time to tell everyone exactly what he did to us and now he couldn’t shut us up,” she said.

On 6 September Richard Haynes, now 74, was sentenced to 45 years in jail by a Sydney court.

Warning: Contains descriptions of violence and child abuse

‘I wasn’t safe in my own head’

The Haynes family moved from Bexleyheath in London to Australia in 1974. Jeni was four years old, but her father had already begun his abuse, and in Sydney this escalated into sadistic, near-daily violations.

“My dad’s abuse was calculated and it was planned. It was deliberate and he enjoyed every minute of it,” Jeni told the court in a victim impact statement in May. She waived her anonymity rights, as a victim of abuse, so her father could be identified.

“He heard me beg him to stop, he heard me cry, he saw the pain and terror he was inflicting upon me, he saw the blood and the physical damage he caused. And the next day he chose to do it all again.”

Haynes also brainwashed his daughter into thinking he could read her mind, she said. He threatened to kill her mother, brother and sister if she even thought about the abuse, let alone told them.

“My inner life was invaded by Dad. I couldn’t even feel safe in my own head,” Jeni said. “I could no longer examine what was happening to me and draw my own conclusions.”

She composed her thoughts through song lyrics, to try to hide them:

“He ain’t heavy/he’s my brother” – when worrying about her siblings.

“Do you really want to hurt me/ Do you really want to make me cry” – when thinking about her ordeal.

Her father restricted her social activities at school to minimise other adult oversight. Jeni learnt to keep herself small and silent, because if she were to be “seen” – such as when her swimming coach approached her father to encourage her natural talent – she would be punished.

Jeni was also denied medical care for her injuries from beatings and sexual abuse, which have developed into serious lifelong conditions.

Now aged 49, Jeni has irreparable damage to her eyesight, jaw, bowel, anus and coccyx. These have required extensive surgeries including a colostomy operation in 2011.

The abuse would continue until Jeni was 11, when the family moved back to the UK. Her parents divorced shortly after, in 1984. She believes no-one, not even her mother, was aware of what she was going through.

‘He was actually abusing Symphony’

Contemporary Australian experts refer to Jeni’s condition as Dissociative Identity Disorder, and say it is heavily linked to experiences of extreme abuse against a child in what is supposed to be a safe environment.

“It serves as a very sophisticated coping strategy that is widely regarded as extreme. But you have to remember, it’s the response to extreme abuse and trauma the child has undergone.”

The earlier the trauma and the more extreme the abuse, the more likely it is that a child has to rely on disassociation to cope, leading to these “multiple self-states”.

The first personality Jeni says she developed was Symphony, the four-year-old girl who, she says, exists in her own time reality.

“She suffered every minute of Dad’s abuse and when he abused me, his daughter Jeni, he was actually abusing Symphony,” Jeni told the BBC.

As the years went on, Symphony created other personalities herself to endure the abuse. Each one of what would be hundreds and hundreds of personalities had a particular role in containing an element of the abuse, whether it was a particularly horrifying assault, or a triggering sight and smell.

“An alter would walk out the back of Symphony’s head and take on the distraction,” Jeni told the BBC.

“My alters have been my defences against my father.”

It’s while discussing this that Symphony presents, about half an hour into our conversation. Jeni has warned this might happen, and there is a sign when it does – she struggles to articulate an answer before transitioning.

“Hello, I’m Symphony. Jeni’s gotten into a pickle, I’ll come tell you all about this if you don’t mind,” she says in a rapid burst.

Symphony’s voice is higher, her tone brighter, more girlish and breathless. We talk for 15 minutes and her microscopic recollection of decades-old events around “Daddy’s nastiness” is astounding.

“What I did was I took everything I thought was precious about me, everything important and lovely and hid it from Daddy so that when he abused me he wasn’t abusing a thinking human being,”.

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