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Shortland Street star Monique Bree bravely speaks out about her violent past

In order to tell her story, Monique had to face the court system - something she was no stranger to as a child.

By Marilynn McLachlan
Growing up in the small suburb of Taita in Lower Hutt, former Shortland Street actress Monique Bree's life was tainted with drugs, gangs and tragically, multiple incidences of sexual abuse.
But the 35-year-old has worked long and hard to become the strong woman she is today and has bravely come forward to share her past in the hope that it may help other people who are suffering.
She confides, "The biggest thing is that you can heal from these things. You can walk out a proud person, not just a damaged person. You are not your beginning."
But in order to tell her story, Monique has had to face the court system – something she was no stranger to as a child.
Under New Zealand law, victims who are under the age of 18 are granted automatic name suppression, meaning she has been unable to talk publicly about the abuse.
"I just felt shame, like I was at fault and would never be free of it," she says.
"I know why it was put in place, but I just felt shame and was disheartened."
In order to have the suppression order lifted, Monique found herself, for the first time, with her 575-page ACC file, which showed in black and white the horrors of her abuse.
"It was not an easy thing to do, going through every single page and all of the memories I had probably suppressed," she explains.
"I had to relive a lot of things."
In one example, she was asked why she felt as though she was made of glass and the eight-year-old Monique heartbreakingly replied,
"Because everyone looks through me like nothing, smashing me into a million pieces. It's all the people that are trying to put me back together that get hurt. I just make people bleed."
Staying home for two days to read the file, Monique persevered with the process and is now – finally – able to speak out and tell her story that came full circle when she played Detective Natalie Mahoney on the country's favourite soap.
"I can remember certain police officers that made a huge difference to my life and I always wanted to be them," she reveals.
"They were heroes to me."
When Woman's Day talks to the blonde beauty, there is an array of photographs spread out in front of her.
They seem like snaps any family would have – a chubby chops toddler blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, a girl pushing a dolly in a pram and another with Monique smiling at the camera, holding a pen and doing her homework.
"I wanted to show this photo," she says, stabbing her finger at the last image.
"At that moment – and I can still remember it – that moment everything changed."
It was then, at the tender age of eight, her world took a shocking turn. Shortly after the picture was captured, Monique experienced her first sexual assault.
"I was old enough to remember this particular event, but I was also young enough to think it was all my fault," she shares.
"So I carried that forever. And then I was ripped from my family. That same year I found out my dad wasn't my dad, so my brothers weren't my brothers. So right from that moment, I just thought I was different and unwanted."
Aged eight, Monique's world came crashing down. "I was an adult at that moment," she says of the assault.
Her abuser, who has name suppression, was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault and was sent to prison for seven years, serving three.
But for the young girl, the ramifications of the abuse turned her world upside down.
"My family couldn't hide what happened and the wheels fell off pretty much," reveals Monique.
"My whole family fell apart."
Her world in tatters, the young girl continued to be sexually assaulted by a number of men. In and out of court, in and out of foster homes, it was a difficult life where she struggled to cope.
"For me, it's not the event, it's how it was handled," she says passionately.
"I didn't have any healing. I was left on my own. I was treated as an inconvenience.
"People just saw straight past me. I would hear 'don't f!@#ng talk', 'shut up', 'get away', 'f!@ off'. As soon as it happened, there were gangs in our house all the time, parties all the time and drugs all the time."
As horrific as her abuse was, on the outside she was a bubbly and positive kid who grasped at hope as she passed by Avalon Studios on her way to and from school.
There, she would sit on the bank and watch people coming and going, and pretend that she was one of them.
The studio was where kids' show What Now was recorded at the time, and Monique managed to sweet-talk her way through security a few times to be in the audience – and it was also where she believed her favourite show Shortland Street was filmed.
"Growing up, it was the biggest show on TV, so for me it was like Hollywood and I thought it was the centre of the world," she asserts.
"I always said to myself that one day I was going to be there."
Shorty suspects! Detective Natalie Mahoney grills Dr Drew (Ben Barrington, left) and IT's Damo Johnson (Grant Lobban).
It was a dream that would eventually come true.
Staying home longer than most so she could look after her younger brothers, she was accepted into drama school Toi Whakaari.
But the youngster couldn't afford the fees, so she took another course, then left when she got the opportunity to be an extra in James Cameron's Avatar, which was filmed in Aotearoa.
She later scored a small TV role on Go Girls and two seasons later, in 2009, she was offered a bigger role and jumped at the opportunity.
"I never turned around," she says.
"I stayed in Auckland. I lived in a hotel and in the back of people's houses because I had no money."
In the 10 years between her next role on Shortland Street, Monique clawed back the power her traumatic childhood had stripped from her.
She worked as a personal trainer and taught boxing classes, which helped her immensely.
"Have you ever had the dream where you feel you're powerless and you're trying to fight?" she asks rhetorically. "That's how I felt my whole life. But when I box, I feel like I've got my power back."
She also got lucky in love.
Friends set her up on a blind date with sales manager Blair Meredith, 36, soon after she moved to the City of Sails, and they've been together ever since.
"Blair is literally Prince Charming," Monique gushes.
"He is perfect and it drives me crazy! He's the biggest goofball, incredibly sensitive, incredibly strong and he has the highest morals."
And fate gave the couple an unexpected gift – they fell pregnant the "first time".
Her brown eyes dancing in a smile, she says, "We say the universe did that for us because I would have run. I spent a good two or three years trying to reject him because I just didn't trust it. But now it's incredible and I can feel happy. Really happy."
Their little daughter Quinn'Ava is now eight years old, which is bittersweet.
"I look at her and I think she's so innocent and young and a kid, and that was me, but I was an adult at that moment. I go inside myself and I find eight-year-old me and I see it in her."
Marrying her soulmate Blair in 2017. "He is perfect and it drives me crazy," she laughs.
Monique married the love of her life in a romantic ceremony three years ago in North Auckland's Silverdale and the couple welcomed
a son, two-year-old Monro, last December.
The young family have purchased a property on the Hibiscus Coast and are busy renovating it, which is a far cry from the actress' early years.
"Owning a house was not something I'd ever dreamed of, to be honest," she explains.
"I didn't know anyone who owned a house. We all lived in state housing. It's surreal to be renovating my house because I lived under the stairs for two years when I was young."

While she is still in therapy and continues to battle her painful past, scoring the role of Detective Mahoney, who was trying to bring down a drug ring, was a career highlight.
Swelling with pride, Monique says, "I don't care how clichéd it sounds, this was the biggest goal I'd ever set for myself and I'd set it at eight years old – and I finally did it.
"I don't feel anxious about the unrest in my life anymore because I feel I've just ticked something off and given it to this little girl."
And, now able to speak freely, the successful actress is working on a web series that will document childhood trauma in a way she hopes
will help other people.
Monique insists she doesn't want pity for herself but for people to inspire and lift each other up.
"A little hope can make a big difference – that was me. I looked at what I wanted to be, not what I was surrounded by and I was driven by that.
"So if my life can offer some hope or inspiration to someone else, then I feel like my purpose is fulfilled."

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