Ailsa grew up on an Aboriginal reserve in Western Australia’s midlands district. Both her parents drank a lot and could not properly look after her. In the early 1970s, when she was eight years old, Ailsa was removed from their care and made a state ward. Welfare placed her with Kerry, her older sister. ‘Neither my parents nor my sister ever really cared for me. I did not have clean clothes or enough food, or things for school ... I had a bad upbringing.’
Kerry wouldn’t give her any lunch, and so she would often go over to her cousins’ place to eat. While she was there her adult cousin Leonard would sexually abuse her, touching her breasts and masturbating against her. He would then give her lunch. This abuse happened on many occasions.
Another cousin, Matthew, was in his teens, and came to the drive-in with her family a number of times. On these trips, he would put his hands down Ailsa’s pants to touch her vagina. Finally, her cousin Andrew, who was also a teenager, molested her when they played hide and seek together. During their games, ‘he would come and get behind me, being silly with me’.
She thinks she was still a ward when she ran away from her sister’s home, at around 14 years old. She had her first child when she was 16, to a partner who was violent to her. One of her children was sexually abused by someone from Leonard’s family too.
Ailsa tries not to go near her home town anymore, as she does not want to see the people who molested her. Even so, they are sometimes at community funerals she goes to and this is hard for her. The abuse made her ‘shut down’, which impacted on her schooling, and she did not get a good education. It impacted on her adult relationships too. ‘I do not trust men, and I now live alone. I am now homeless.’ She has lived with depression for a long time, and for a while took medication to treat it.
Many years later, she still gets flashbacks to the abuse, and thinks she might like to get some counselling to help her move on from these experiences. Ailsa has not reported any of the abuse to police, but is considering doing so. She also believes it is likely they have also abused other children in their community.
It was not until recently that Ailsa felt able to talk much about her abuse experiences, and she has now told her sister and son. ‘You got to let it all out in the open ... They wouldn’t believe, after all these years, that I brought it all up.’ Knowing firsthand how easy it can be for abuse to happen, Ailsa is very protective of the children in her life.
‘Any little kid I had around, at my house, [if] any other adults were there I kept an eye on them ... Every time I’d go in the room, checking, because of what happened to me.’