Growing up in a small town in northern New South Wales in the 1980s, Britney said, she pretty much raised herself.
‘My mum was like a, sort of like a narcissist ... I felt like I was her mum. So, I’d spend nearly every night at the pub while she’d be gambling, drinking … and then, you know, I’d have to walk her home drunk and then I never … I just fell behind in all my schoolwork and then I was getting report cards saying, “Britney needs to make more friends” ... no other kids wanted to hang around me.’
Soon after starting high school Britney ‘ended up losing the plot … I ran away to Sydney and I did all this stuff ... So I missed all of Year 8 … I don’t even know what I was doing but I didn’t want to go home, I knew that, because it was just the worst’.
When Britney finally returned to school she met Tia Fallin, who would become her best friend. ‘And then we became a pack.’
There was one teacher Britney and Tia liked to annoy, Andrew Whitt. He started sending the girls anonymous letters, with explicit photographs and offers of drugs. Whitt sent letters to Britney’s mother too, ‘saying, you know, “your daughter gives head jobs behind bus stops” … and the pictures of his penis and all that’.
Whitt was eventually arrested by a local detective and sacked from the high school. Another teacher, Neil Grahn, found out what Whitt was doing.
‘And then he became the guy we could talk to … We just wanted to be around him because, at the time, he was like our, you know, friend ...
‘It’s like he found something to use.’
When Britney was 15, she and Tia hitchhiked to Grahn’s house. He took the girls for a drive in his ‘creepy’ panel van and gave them alcohol.
‘And then yeah, we had sex ... I remember waking up and Tia was like, “Oh my God, Britney” and I was like … “At least I could stay here, though”. I know that sounds bad but … anywhere else was better than being at home.
‘And then it lasted nearly two years.’
Grahn admitted to Britney that he could go to jail if anyone found out what had happened. Soon after, when an investigation did begin, he made her and Tia leave town.
‘That’s why he sent us away until I was 16 ... I just knew that if I turned 16, it meant I could do what I want ... I didn’t really know that if I turned 16 it was legal for him. It was more about me, really.’
After staying with Grahn’s brother for a couple of days, Britney said it got ‘weirder and weirder’ and she and Tia returned home. She was then interviewed by two people she thinks were from the education department.
‘I remember them saying, “Is there anything going on between you and Neil Grahn?” and I said, “No, of course not”, and that was pretty much it. And my mum denied it as well.
‘And they asked all my friends … and they all lied, too. And I just think, “Are you serious?” Of course we’re not going to say anything. I’m pretty sure they were there for about 10 minutes and that was the end of it ... like, the whole school knew …
‘[Neil] made those people think he was really cool, you know what I mean? So no one was going to dob on him. Pretty smart, when I think about it.’
Britney continued to stay with Grahn, at one point terminating a pregnancy. He also encouraged her to drop out of school. Just before Britney turned 18, he lost interest and drove her away.
Britney moved interstate and started a career, ‘which kept my brain busy, so I never had time to think’. In time she started a new relationship and had a child. In her early 30s she spoke about the sexual abuse for the first time, to her partner.
‘I was just talking about it like it was no big deal … and then it hit me.
‘And we ended up breaking up because I didn’t know I had so much … I didn’t know I had anything wrong with me.’
As Britney tried to deal with the memories of her abuse, she began to understand what Grahn had done to her, physically and emotionally.
‘It makes me sick. And I just … I feel like … I missed out on so much …
‘It totally ruined everything … I don’t even know how I’m alive still, to be honest ... I don’t know how I coped.’
Britney was diagnosed with PTSD and now has good support from her doctor, a psychologist and psychiatrist. She said that helping others also gives her strength.
A few months before coming to the Royal Commission, Britney decided to report Grahn. She made a statement to her local police, who she said were very good. The case was then transferred to her old home town, where the detectives have done almost nothing.
‘It worries me … because I’m from there, I know that there’s a couple of them that still work there that know of me …
‘Tia and I got in a lot of trouble … They’ll think, “Look, they’re being troublemakers. We’re not even going to bother”. That’s what I feel like.’
Britney is especially concerned about the slow progress because there are rumours the school is being closed and she’s worried records will disappear. She wants it and Grahn held accountable.
Britney has never taken any action against the education department because she said she didn’t know how. The Commission put her in touch with the free legal service, knowmore, so she could explore her options.
When asked what might have helped her when she was young, Britney said ‘police and normal people’.
‘I’m from a place where everybody was the same, you know. Everyone was violent, everyone was drinking, everyone was doing something wrong ... so it didn’t matter … all my mum’s friends were from jail … there was never any normalness.’