Billie grew up in the early 1990s in northern Queensland. When she was 13 she went to board at a co-educational high school for Aboriginal children, run by the Uniting Church.
Her family felt it was a good opportunity for her to get a good education within a culturally appropriate setting. Billie said she was excited to be among other black kids, but the set-up was different than she imagined.
‘Because of the reputation about it, like they say it’s so good and that, but as soon as you walk in there – like the toilets and everything, there’s graffiti everywhere. It was always dirty.’
The transition experience from home to the school was also not what the family expected.
‘When Mum put me down there, they didn’t even end up going and picking up my mum so she can get a tour of the school … So if my mum would have came in and seen the school, she would have said, “Nuh, I don’t want you here”, even though it was full of black people.’
In her second year at the school, Billie was sexually assaulted. That night, she had been upset and was thinking of running away.
‘I was getting teased in the school because I like – you know, leaving Mum and Dad for the first time, I didn’t know anything about sex or anything about boyfriends and that. You know I didn’t know nothing about it – kissing or holding hands.’
Billie said there was another girl at school going around with different boyfriends and pretending to be her, so other girls would pick fights with her. She had got to the point where she couldn’t handle it anymore and went off into the grounds on her own to try and decide what to do.
‘I heard a whistle … When I went to walk back … one fella cut me off. He cut me off this way and then went boom, he hit me down.’
A group of four or five male students covered her face with their hands, held her down, and then raped her – ‘like a pack of dogs’.
‘It’s like I went all deaf. It’s like you can’t hear the world or anything and you’re trying to talk and you can’t even hear your own voice … It happened all in a rush. Like I was in another state. I didn’t know what was happening. All I had to do was just fight, kick and everything.’
One of her cousins, who also attended the school, was among the boys acting as a look-out. She asked him to help her.
‘I looked up and seen his face and then I asked him and he just – I’ll tell you the words that he said. He goes, “Oh hurry up and suck my friends”. And when he said that, all this has like shattered, like fractured in me.’
One of the boys hit her again and she passed out. When she woke up there was no one around. She cried and took herself back to the dorms.
After two days Billie told her aunty, who was working at the school, and she was taken to the medical centre. She was treated for sexually transmitted infections but no medical or physical evidence of the rape was collected. She then told her guidance counsellor, who took her to the principal’s office.
‘That’s when we rang through to Mum and Dad and the principal said out of his own mouth, “I don’t think you should go forward with this case, hey” … And I’m not the only one that had that in that school. You know, girls were going to that school, going back home to their community pregnant.’
Billie’s parents came and took her out of the school. The school encouraged them to keep the incident quiet, stating that some of the boys came from ‘important Indigenous families’, but her parents reported it to the police. The school offered no counselling or support to Billie or her family.
The process of seeking justice was not easy. The police prosecutor told Billie there was little hope of success but that made the family more determined. The case took six years to get to court because some of the offenders had gone back to their communities and police had difficulty arresting them. Then finally Billie had to face her attackers in open court.
The prosecutor had tried to get Billie to make a plea deal for the boys to get a lesser charge but she said ‘No, fuck that, mate. They took my force field. Take them down for everything’. In the end, four boys were convicted of the assault and released on a good behaviour bond.
In the meantime, Billie has struggled with the impacts of the assault. Her parents got her into counselling and she is on antidepressants and anti-psychotic medication. She says she has been suicidal and often feels dirty, wanting to wash the assault off her body.
Billie said she still remembers that night like it was yesterday and the incident plays over and over in her head like a video that she wants to take out and push away. She got into drinking and drugs and went through a series of violent relationships. She also had terrible fights with her family.
‘I was going through, really, stuff that I couldn’t handle. I thought I could do it all on my own. That’s why I pushed my parents away and I didn’t like – it takes everything away. It takes away your personal space. You’ve got no barrier any more …
‘I used to be happy, you know. And after that happened, I just turned into like a big brick.’
However, her parents have continued to be a great support to her throughout. She now has young children who her parents help her care for, and who she said build extra love into her life.
She said she’s handling things better than she did in the years immediately following the attack and although it was hard, she’s very pleased she came forward.
‘This has been a real opener for me. I’ve been really happy for the last week.’