Audrey Margaret's story

‘I live in fear every day of my life. I’m frightened all the time. I still have nightmares every night. I live on sedative medication so that I can stay alive and just function the best I can.’

Audrey was around 10 years old when she was first sexually abused by her uncle in the family home – abuse which continued for the next six years.

As a teenager in the 1960s she was sexually abused by Mr Borland, the deputy principal of her government high school in Perth. Borland began grooming her by giving her special attention and extra tuition, and driving her to extra-curricular activities. ‘At school socials he used to always ask me to dance with him.’ She saw ‘similar things’ happening with one of the older girls at the school too.

Audrey ‘didn’t have a good relationship’ with her parents. ‘There was a lot of yelling and screaming and fighting.’ She considered Borland ‘like a replacement father figure, someone showing me love and attention that I didn’t get from my own father’.

Borland invited her to dinner with his wife and children. At this stage she was still being abused by her uncle too, and welcomed any chance to get away from her family. During her visit they sat together on the couch. ‘He put his arm around me ... I just thought it was an innocent cuddle. Looking back it’s a bit strange, in front of his own children and his wife.’

When Audrey changed schools for her senior years, Borland somehow kept in touch with her, and invited her to join his family on holiday. ‘I remember there was a lot of argument between Mum and Dad whether to let me go or not. Mum was all for me going, and Dad was against it. But Mum always won out ... I wanted to go.’

On the very first night of the holiday, Borland sat Audrey on his knee while his wife was beside him, and they watched television. ‘His hand crept up my back and undid my bra and he started fondling me ... I couldn’t move, I didn’t know what was happening.’

Audrey was trapped as the holiday was for a week and Borland continued to sexually abuse her. ‘He used to stick his tongue down my throat and kiss me. And he was smoker, so now cigarette smoke it just really puts me in a bad place.’

He would come out to where she was sleeping ‘undress me and lay on top of me, he put his penis between my legs’. His explanation for this was that he was showing her what would happen when she got a boyfriend – ‘to teach you what you have to say “no” to’ – and ‘kept saying he loved me’.

Eventually, ‘he actually penetrated me, and he withdrew and he said “I can’t go any further ‘cause I love you too much”. Just sort of left me bleeding and that. I had no clue at that age how somebody got pregnant, so I went home wondering whether I was pregnant or not’.

When Audrey returned home to her family she ‘shut down’ and her grades dropped. ‘I knew I couldn’t tell Mum and Dad, ‘cause they would blame me ... I just became withdrawn, found it hard to associate with people.’

Audrey never saw Borland again.

In her 30s she disclosed the abuse by her uncle to a friend. ‘I ended up blurting [it] out to a girlfriend, but the first thing that I said was the fact my uncle had abused me. I felt so ashamed of what happened with the teacher that that took me a while to tell anyone about him.’

Her friend helped her attend a session with her GP, and through this she was linked with a specialised sexual assault service, and started talking about the abuse by Borland a little. Although she did mention Borland to police at one stage, he was deceased by this time.

Audrey found it very difficult to disclose the abuse to her family. ‘My GP ended up calling Mum I believe, and telling her. I couldn’t even tell my husband. My girlfriend told my husband. I just couldn’t – I still feel ashamed of what happened to me. I still feel as though it was my fault.’

Her parents’ response to learning what her uncle and Borland had done to her was ‘not good’. ‘My mother’s first statement was like, “Oh one of my uncles tried to touch me once and I got up and walked out the room”. Mum and Dad ended up screaming at each other.’

Her mother still ‘has no clue the extent of what happened’, and Audrey finds it ‘better to stay away from her’.

Despite knowing the incidents of abuse were crimes against her: ‘until my mother says that to me, I will always feel as though she blamed me’.

Her father ‘used to cry every time he hugged me’.

When her husband found out ‘he was too scared to touch me. Because if we ever had intercourse I’d just get up and sit in the lounge room and cry and cry and cry ... And then he gave up in the end, ‘cause I couldn’t tell him. ‘Cause I felt like a prostitute’.

Audrey has battled depression for many years, and has had episodes of suicidal ideation. ‘I haven’t been able to work for 20 years, I have no super – I feel financially insecure. And that’s a huge worry for me.’ The impact on her education and further opportunities ‘hurts a lot’.

In the 1990s she spent a lengthy period in a psychiatric facility, and remains on medication and in therapy to manage her mental health. ‘I was just drugged out for years, and I’ve sort of used alcohol to get by.’

She feels guilty about the impact her mental health issues had on her children, and considers herself ‘lucky’ they turned out to be ‘very successful people’. ‘It has been a struggle ... They’ve all had some psychological help. But that all had to be sought privately ... there was nothing available for the family.’ She knows her children talk to their own kids ‘about their safety, and to speak up’, and is ‘pretty sure’ her grandchildren would disclose if they were sexually abused.

Audrey told the Commissioner that although ‘I don’t enjoy life one bit’, her family gives her a reason to keep living. ‘I just think about my kids, and what it would do to them if I did something.’

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