‘We got to watch him die, and that was quite gracious ... He didn’t have any excuses, that he was a drug addict or an alcoholic, he was just rotten.’
Abigail’s father was a violent man, whom she does not remember with any affection or familiarity. ‘I don’t call him Dad, I call him Robert.’ Abigail’s mother often went away for work, leaving the children with Robert.
In the early 1980s, when Abigail was six years old, she had a big talk with her older sister, Gloria. ‘I noticed my sister was missing a lot ... When I asked her where she’d been, she said, “Well, I’ve noticed the same with you”. And we started talking about it.’
It turned out that Robert had been ‘taking us either out to the laundry, to the toilet, into his room’, or sometimes even to their own rooms to sexually abuse them.
Gloria was in her early teens, and ‘she said to Mum what was happening. Now he went to jail for quite a long time, and that’s when the [Western Australian] Department of Child Protection (DCP) became involved’.
Abigail’s parents remained together, and her mother would make Abigail and her sister visit Robert while he was incarcerated. ‘Every weekend we’d go down to the prison. Now DCP were already in our family, and there was no monitoring where she was taking us and what was going on.’
Towards the end of Robert’s sentence, he was sent home for weekend visits, which were monitored by a caseworker from the DCP. At this time, Abigail learned that he had previously sexually abused his other children – siblings she didn’t even know about – on the other side of the country.
After serving his sentence, Abigail’s father returned to live with the family, but the DCP failed to supervise this situation. ‘The only time that they really stepped in and did anything was when he was coming out on weekend release. But when he came home that was it – we were left to our own devices.’
Abigail was around 11 by then, and Robert soon started abusing her again. This continued until she reached her teens, and ran away to live on the streets. She was unable to access Centrelink benefits for living out of home, as she needed her parents’ consent to receive any money.
Even when a social worker eventually signed off on her allowance, it was not enough to live on. ‘That would pay for a roof over my head with the heroin addicts. And then I just made my own allowance by walking the streets and selling myself.’
Even though the police knew she was underage, they did not make any attempt to remove her from the situation or refer her to appropriate supports. At 14, Abigail fell pregnant for the first time, but lost the baby.
DCP didn’t intervene to assist her either. ‘It wasn’t until later years when I had my own kids, and having all these problems, that DCP stepped back into my life. I have a lot of contempt for those people – a lot of contempt.’
Abigail has had issues with heroin and methamphetamine, misused alcohol, has experienced relationship violence and been in trouble with the law. She spoke to the Commissioner from jail, and described the impacts of the abuse as ‘ghastly. I look for love in all the wrong places. I’m violent’.
For many years, Abigail managed to keep herself drug-free and out of prison. However, after a recent bereavement she relapsed into drug use, and was given a prison sentence – ‘my violent tendencies ended me up here’.
While in jail, Abigail is trying to catch up on some of her education, which was severely disrupted by the abuse. ‘I don’t even understand the concept of adding up.’ She’s also doing a course which helps women rebuild their self-esteem, ‘and that’s really helped’.
Other than this though, she has never sought any kind of counselling. She isn’t sure what, if anything, would have helped her to access appropriate support when she was at home, or after she left.
She knows many kids today are still in similar situations to hers, and that it isn’t easy for them to find someone to talk to about it. ‘Where do they go, without thinking everything’s authority? And when you’re scared like that, usually authority figures are no good.’
Abigail credits her anger with getting her through the tough times. ‘My anger that I won’t be beaten, that’s kept me going. You’ll bend me, but you’re not going to break me.’
Around five years ago Abigail disclosed the sexual abuse to her children. As yet she has not taken any civil action against the department for allowing Robert, a convicted child sex offender, to live back with the children he had previously abused.
Abigail has spoken to her mother about why she stayed with Robert and allowed him access to her and Gloria even knowing he had abused them. Having stayed in violent relationships herself, she has some understanding of why her mother felt unable to leave her father, but even so she ‘can’t fathom knowing someone is sexually assaulting your kids, and you go back.
‘Who leaves their kids with a convicted paedophile? ... I asked her to justify stuff, repeatedly. And one day she just broke down and she said, I failed, I failed youse. And it wasn’t until that moment that I realised she’d been failed by the system herself.’