Essie was first sexually abused by her stepfather when she was around 10 years old.
She’d been placed in a group home in Queensland in the early 1980s due to her intellectual disability, but would come home on weekends and for holidays. On these visits, Essie’s stepfather would often take her out on day trips and abuse her.
She remembered being terrified but she eventually told a teacher at her school, who informed staff at the group home. According to her files, the staff didn’t believe Essie, thought it was her ‘imagination’, even labelled her a liar. The stepfather continued to sexually abuse Essie and her younger sister for years.
In the mid-80s, when the police were finally notified, no charges were laid against the stepfather because Essie was deemed to be an unreliable witness. Staff at the group home were told that she was to have no further contact with him, but when Essie moved to another home, that message was not passed on. Essie was again sent to stay with her mother and stepfather on weekends and holidays and the abuse continued.
Essie remembers crying in her room, going to bed with her stomach churning and not being able to sleep. She thought about running away from the group home many times, but there was nowhere for her to go.
Essie also knew that no one there would listen to her. ‘I couldn’t tell the house mother’, she said simply.
Essie’s sister reported her abuse to police in the mid-2000s and charges were brought against their stepfather, but he was only convicted of a minor offence and received a few months’ jail.
Around five years later, with the help of a disability support service, Essie reported her own abuse again. Her stepfather was arrested and charged with multiple counts of rape and indecent assault.
As part of her preparation for court Essie was required to undergo a three-hour assessment by a psychologist, to determine if she was a competent witness. ‘I know the difference between truth and not the truth’, she said.
Essie was intimidated and embarrassed talking to the male psychologist. She was asked questions about sex and about consent, even though she was well under 16 when the abuse occurred. Essie was even asked if she could have done more to stop it.
‘How does a child push a man off them?’ Essie said.
The three-hour assessment was extremely stressful and draining for her. When Essie and her friend from the disability support service spoke to the Commissioner, they suggested that three one-hour sessions would have been much better. Essie also agreed that she would have felt more comfortable if she’d talked to a woman and had a support person in the room.
When prosecutors decided to not proceed with the case, Essie was angry that her stepfather had got away with the abuse.
‘It sucks. They should have done better. He’s a paedophile. Paedophiles should be locked up.’
Essie has had a lot of anger for many years, and not just towards her stepfather. Her mother has never believed that he sexually abused Essie and her sister and she remains married to him. ‘I’m angry with my mother … that she can stick by him.’ Essie said that she doesn’t think her mother will ever believe it.
Essie still has nightmares about the abuse, and is frightened of her stepfather to this day. She worries that if she leaves the house, she might see him on the street. When Essie spoke to the Commissioner, she had a domestic violence order against him.
One of Essie’s greatest fears is that her stepfather will use Facebook to become friends with children. She’s also always found it hard to trust people in authority, and sometimes people in general. ‘I push them away’, she said.
Essie hasn’t yet sought any compensation from the group home organisation or the Queensland Government, but the disability support service is helping her look into it.
And since she’s been having counselling, Essie has become stronger and more independent. She has a job and friends, gets out into the community and has even done some public speaking, telling her story to others.
It took a lot for Essie to come to the Royal Commission. But she wanted to say something about the way society cares for children with disabilities.
‘When I was at school, I didn’t have friends. I was playing on my own. They should help people like that … in a difficult situation. They should give respect and understanding.’