Ashleigh June's story

Ashleigh’s early years were spent with her violent, alcoholic and drug-dependent mother. In the late 1980s, when she was just an infant, Ashleigh moved in with her grandparents (but was at time ‘back and forth’ between the two homes).

While staying with her grandparents she was sexually abused for many years by her uncle, who was six years older and also lived in the house. She did not tell anyone in her family about this abuse then, but her later disclosure has caused trouble between her and her grandmother.

When she was around nine years old she attended the school counsellor regarding the physical violence by her mother. ‘I basically just stripped off my clothes and said, “This is what she does to me”.’ After showing her bruises, she ‘just went straight into the system’, and was placed in foster care on the New South Wales central coast.

When Ashleigh was around 11 years old she was living with her foster mother, Jane. On one occasion Jane’s parents, Mr and Mrs Jackson, visited their home. While the other adults were outside, Mr Jackson approached Ashleigh in the living room and hugged her.

‘He held me tight across his body and ran his hands down my back from the shoulders, all the way down over my buttocks, which he grabbed quite hard ... pushed me into him harder and then continued in between my legs, and touched my vagina from behind ... I remember his smile on his face. I still see that smile when I sleep sometimes, although it’s getting less and less.’

Ashleigh pulled away from him and said she needed to go outside to help Jane.

‘I’m a fighter ... Some kids freeze – I remember doing that with my uncle ... I did that for quite a long time. Then I think I sort of went into my fight mode, and I’ve been in that mode ever since.’

After this incident her relationship with her foster family deteriorated, and she was placed back with her grandparents. She did not experience any further abuse there, and studied hard at school to try and make something of herself.

In her teens and early 20s Ashleigh used alcohol, ‘party drugs’, and marijuana at various times. ‘I do realise it was self-medication, it was trying to numb all of the symptoms and things that I had been feeling. But I’m doing counselling and therapies now, which work a lot better than drugs ... You don’t understand. You’re just trying anything to make yourself feel better, not realising that it’s making it worse.’

Ashleigh was also sexually harassed at work in her teens, and successfully took her employers to court. This harassment triggered memories of the earlier sexual abuse, and she disclosed it to her partner. Seeing reports of the Rolf Harris child sexual abuse trial in the media ‘was also a big trigger for me’.

She sought help from her GP and a psychologist, Maree, who specialises in childhood trauma. She sees Maree frequently if she can, ‘although finances are difficult at the moment so hoping compensation comes soon so I can keep seeing her’. At times when she has struggled to pay Maree has given her some cheaper phone therapy sessions. She is on a mental health plan now, but this still does not cover all of the cost.

Maree helped Ashleigh realise that what Mr Jackson did to her was abuse. ‘I didn’t think it was anything. Especially after my uncle. And she said no, that is wrong, and it is sexual abuse.’ She would like to keep seeing Maree, as they have a good rapport and professional relationship. Finding someone she could work well with was ‘trial and error ... You’ve really got to be able to click with them’.

Ashleigh has also been seeing a psychiatrist, who with her permission liaises with Maree about her needs and treatment. She has a GP who is competent in dealing with her mental health needs.

Two years ago Ashleigh lodged a victims of crime compensation claim regarding the physical abuse by her mother, and the sexual abuse both by her uncle and her foster mother’s father. The investigation is still underway, and she feels it is taking a very long time. The process has also been quite triggering at times. ‘I find victims of crime [staff] to be quite uninformed re trauma. I would like to see trauma-informed caseworkers.’

She also went to police and reported the abuse. They informed her that Mr Jackson was deceased, but are investigating her uncle (who she knows now has children of his own, and has also sexually abused another young relative).

Ashleigh told the Commissioner that growing up with strong, stable female friendships had helped her cope with these experiences, as had focusing on her education. She is currently preparing to start a university degree, and she volunteers for several community projects and organisations.

‘I’m very different from everyone in my family, but I look at them and I’ve always thought, how could you live this way? How could you do the same thing that the older generation’s done? I think a big key for me is education. I was always quite bright, and I really thrived off education and learning. And then because of that I’ve always done a lot myself – I do a lot of reading and research. So I’ve always said education is a big, big factor.’

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