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Gabby Louise's story

Gabby, an intelligent woman, was dismissed as a child for being mad. In fact, she had Tourette’s syndrome. She expresses her pain in a statement she brought to the Commission:

‘I feel I was definitely discriminated against by every institution I was involved with … I was forever classed as being off my head – this also included the school teachers. I was never taken seriously, never listened to by anybody and not given a voice.

'I was a child when this began; I was 11. I am now 60 and the 11-year-old child in me is still looking for a voice and still trying to get answers. Please can somebody help me?’

Gabby can’t remember her life before the age of 11. She grew up in regional Australia in an extremely violent and dysfunctional family. Police and ambulances were frequent visitors to the house.

At the age of 11, ‘I started shaking and I had no idea what was happening to me’. Back in the 1960s, the doctors put it down to a nervous complaint. Her father thought she was just ‘putting it on to get attention’.

Around the same time two of Gabby’s brothers started sexually abusing her. Altogether, seven family members abused her. Even though they all threatened her not to tell, Gabby told her sisters and her parents, but was not believed. At school she was being bullied and home was terrifying.

When Gabby was 14 she overdosed on medication. That night her father had held a gun to her head. ‘I wanted to kill myself, not let him do it’, she told the Commissioner.

Gabby was subsequently hospitalised for a month. This was the first of a number of hospital admissions. At around this time, Gabby came to the attention of Child Protection and told a welfare officer, Graeme Neath, about the sexual abuse at home. He placed her with a friend of the family, but Gabby was also sexually abused in this placement.

‘I didn’t really know what the heck was happening and why it was all happening but I believed it was all my fault. Like I deserved that, because of the way I was.’

Next, Gabby lived with her cousin Kevin who became her guardian. He was 12 years older than her, and knew that she had been sexually abused. Gabby slept mainly in Kevin’s car for two weeks then went back home. However her relationship with Kevin continued. He abused Gabby physically and sexually, and was a very violent man.

Gabby was constantly going in and out of hospitals due to the sexual and physical abuse that she was experiencing. ‘Everywhere I went, I tried to tell them that I was getting sexually abused but I still kept going back home.’

Gabby told one doctor that if he didn’t ‘lock me up where they put mad people’ she would kill herself. The next day Gabby was admitted to a government-run mental health institution. She was 15.

Kevin would visit her daily, usually at night. She would also spend weekend releases and holidays with him. Most visits she would spend with Kevin in his car, parked outside the hospital.

‘He would just belt me … and make me do stuff for him sexually. And if I went into the ward crying, he’d come in and he’d stand back and talk to the sister and I’d go up to my room. And then she’d come up and give me something to calm me down. So I don’t know what he told her. That happened on so many occasions.

'I’d be so frustrated with the beltings, I wanted to hit back at him but I knew I couldn’t because he was stronger … So I used to go and hold my arm on the urn and had big blisters on my arm. And the staff used to ignore it. I don’t even recall them asking me why I did it or anything. They’d just dress it and that would be it. Or I’d stub cigarettes out on my arm … it was like an emotional release.’

As Gabby recalls in her statement, ‘Even though I was very frightened of him, I couldn't stop him visiting me because he was the only person I had in my life. Nobody in my family came near me or was ever concerned enough about me to ever support me.’

Years later, Gabby saw her file from this institution and, even though Kevin was her guardian, they had recorded him as her ‘boyfriend’.

After 10 months, Gabby was released and her relationship with Kevin continued. Due to his abuse Gabby spent a lot of time in hospital. She would tell doctors she had walked into a wall. She did, however, report Kevin’s abuse to the police. After the police interviewed Kevin they told Gabby they could go no further.

When Gabby was in her early 20s, she left Kevin. Shortly afterwards, she met her husband and they had children. Their marriage lasted more than 30 years. Her marriage has now ended, but she lives in stable accommodation and is on the disability support pension.

In the 1990s Gabby’s child abuse counsellor advised her she could possibly bring all her perpetrators to justice. Gabby gave statements to detectives at the child abuse unit. After they interviewed Kevin they closed the case, saying there wasn’t enough evidence. The other perpetrators are now deceased.

Gabby wants answers. She wants to know how all the institutions in her early life failed her – schools, welfare, the police, hospitals. She knows her life would have been very different if they had acted upon what she strongly believes they knew.

‘You know I just want to prove my dad wrong. I know he’s not here but, in my heart, he told me all my life that I was a nothing and a nobody, and I’d get nowhere.

'And you know what? I am somebody and I am going to go somewhere. I don’t know where, but I will do something and not be that person that you think I am. And that, too, is what is inspiring me.’

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