‘I became dissociative. I really had this complete split from reality where he was. I still had this sort of feeling somehow my identity would collapse without him, it was so profoundly worked into me.’
In the late 1960s Cindy injured her foot badly in an accident. Her mother immediately began legal action against a government utility for damages. Cindy’s solicitor was Rex Slater, a married man in his late 20s.
Cindy described their first meeting to the Commissioner. ‘In our initial conference when I was 14, without my parents present, Rex Slater said to me, “You know, after seeing these photos I didn’t expect to meet a beautiful young lady. You’ve lost a lot of weight”.’
Cindy remembers the meeting vividly – at the time the remark made her uneasy. The compliment set the pattern for the years ahead. Slater regularly added joking sexual references to their conversation, embarrassing Cindy.
Despite this, a friendship developed which was well beyond the bounds of a solicitor/client relationship. Cindy’s parents allowed her to travel alone to meetings with Slater, and the two of them would visit witnesses to Cindy’s accident. Slater talked about his personal life and built a rapport with Cindy. She found him ‘fun to be with’.
Cindy’s injuries kept her from school through her adolescence. She had almost no friends and her family was also fracturing at the time. Slater began to fill a void in her life. He would call her regularly at home. She was encouraged to call him at his office.
‘This guy was being like a friend, a father, a mother, it was like he’d become the keystone to my whole identity. He was becoming the only external reference point I had in the world, because I was like a hermit living in the house. There were times I’d be on bed rest for two months and not get out of the house.’
After three years the court case was settled in Cindy’s favour. Slater suggested a celebration. ‘The lunch was like a seduction. He took me to this amazing restaurant, three courses, harbour views, wine, whatever. It was just magic.’ Cindy was 17.
Shortly after this Slater proposed a picnic. He drove Cindy to an isolated spot in Sydney’s south and stopped the car. ‘And he asked me did I believe it was possible to be in love with two people at the same time. I took Rex Slater’s question to mean he was in love with me as well as with his wife.’
‘I think I froze. He made sexual approaches and we had intercourse on the back seat. I did not want to have intercourse with him. I then returned to school.’
Cindy and Rex Slater continued a sexual relationship for five years. Cindy moved into a flat and Slater would visit her weekly on his ‘jogging night’, escaping his wife. He arranged trysts in his various workplaces and in Cindy’s car. ‘I actually felt his wife was lucky he was seeing me, because I didn’t like him. I had no interest in him and there was no risk I was going to take him from her.’
‘I think I felt indebted for all he’d done for me and feared losing his friendship which had become crucial to me over the traumatic years of my family, my isolation from peers and my chronic illness. As if I would be invisible without him.’
Cindy ended the relationship when she met her future husband at university. She did not tell him about her history with Slater until many years later, and carried the guilt of that secret with her. Cindy also reports a sense that other people were more important than her. ‘Before I realised it was abuse I thought that I’d not done the normal growing up into adulthood because of [Slater] … I could be very dependent in relationships and leave decisions up to other people. I could go travelling overseas on my own perfectly fine. Put me with other people and I just have to please them.’
‘The major life threatening impacts happened once I realised what had happened and understood my experience from an informed position.’ When she was 30 Cindy studied child sexual abuse.
‘It just hit me that what had happened was abuse. I became severely depressed, I wrote angry letters to my husband, he was working extraordinarily long hours … I was blaming him for everything under the sun.’
Cindy became agoraphobic and hid from friends. ‘I just didn’t know what to say, I was so depressed.’ She began obsessing about tracking down Rex Slater and confronting him. ‘I wanted to tell him what he had done and what a monster he was. I was totally, totally angry and I wanted to be heard.’
‘I could never imagine him giving acknowledgement. All I could imagine was a derisive laugh or something dismissive. So there was nowhere for it to go. I wasn’t going to do that and I wasn’t going to put myself in that position.
‘I wanted to kill myself. I was so angry, I was in so much pain. And I was angry at myself as well.’
Antidepressants helped. And eventually Cindy began seeing a counsellor. ‘This abuse by Slater was still so taboo for me I couldn’t tell a counsellor at that stage because I felt so culpable, because I felt I was at an age where I should’ve known what was happening. I felt it was my fault.’
When Cindy’s father died she felt able to open up about the abuse she had suffered. Approaching the Royal Commission has become part of her healing. Cindy has the support of her husband and friends and is now working with a psychologist to deal with her past.