Elle's story

‘It all started in [the early 2000s]. I was 16 at the time.’

Elle’s parents had separated a few years previously and she was living with her mother, in regional Queensland. Her mother had recently re-partnered and as a result Elle was spending a lot of time on her own.

One night Elle was sexually assaulted. Her parents couldn’t be contacted, so Elle ended up at a youth shelter. When staff at the shelter finally located Elle’s mother, she didn’t offer any help. Instead, because of the sexual assault, she refused to let Elle return home.

Her mother’s rejection left Elle dependent on government agencies for support. She was placed in crisis accommodation. During this time she was an unwilling sexual partner of a teenage boy who was also a resident there.

‘It was kind of thrust upon me … I felt like I had no choice. I didn’t want it to happen, I felt very uncomfortable when it happened.’ She reported it to one of the supervisors at the centre, but her concerns were dismissed. There was an attitude of ‘boys will be boys’, she said. ‘It wasn’t made a big thing of.’

Eventually Elle was placed in longer-term accommodation, in a large house in a suburb of Brisbane. Initially she had housemates, but she soon found herself living there alone. There were rules – no alcohol, no boys – but no-one there to enforce them. With no on-site supervision, ‘that’s when the main situation happened’, Elle recalled.

Elle told the Commissioner that it started off innocently. She met a woman, who would come to the house to see her. Elle didn’t know what the woman’s official role was, but she had keys to the house. The woman helped Elle with practical tasks: she’d write grocery lists, took Elle shopping, and paid for them to go home in a taxi.

‘I thought that was nice of her … Then she asked me out for coffee … It’s not until years later that I looked back on it and said “Hold on, this wasn’t actually right”.’ Looking back, Elle believes she was being groomed.

‘One night she turns up and I’m in the shower … I came out of the shower. She was touching me and stuff. I was trying to get away. She was like “You can wear your towel if you want to. You might be more comfortable wearing that” …

‘The thing is, I was at this home by myself. There wasn’t even a carer. And this woman would come by herself. She would just turn up ... It was horrible. One time I was in the kitchen cooking and she snuck up behind me and grabbed me. I’m like “What the fuck …” She’d just let herself in.’

The woman, who was in her mid-20s, visited often. Elle was living on a benefit and struggling financially and the woman helped out. ‘It got to the point where I had nothing in the cupboards. That’s how it started, with her coming over more, and bringing me stuff … And then it turns into something like, “Well, I’ve done this for you. Can you do this for me?”.’

After some months, a glitch in the pension payment process meant Elle ended up with an unexpected windfall in her bank account. It gave her the opportunity to escape her situation. She moved out of the house, leaving no forwarding address. She never saw the woman again.

Elle told the Commissioner that you can’t live with ‘what ifs’, but she holds the sexual abuse she experienced responsible for the way her life unfolded. Soon after leaving the home, she moved to Melbourne with a boyfriend and got into drugs. In her early 20s she committed a serious crime for which she received a life sentence.

‘[The abuse] has made what my life is now. If that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have left at that time. It’s like a dominos effect.’

Elle receives counselling in jail but has not specifically raised the subject of her abuse. She would like to see youth crisis accommodation staffed by pairs of workers. ‘I believe that there should never be a single person.’ She has not considered seeking compensation, and felt an apology would be of no value.

‘Too late. Too late, I’m sorry.’

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