‘I was brought up in a Seventh Day Adventist family. I was very limited to the people I could access, only brought up with Adventists basically. I was very protected from the world. I had no idea what the world was like. However, within the Church community there was an elder of the Church who happened to be highly esteemed in the community, highly esteemed in the Church. I called him Uncle; he wasn’t an uncle … He groomed me from the age of three. He groomed me to lose sight of my personal boundaries. What was mine wasn’t mine. He took that all away from me.’
Gabrielle was adopted into a loving family in rural Western Australia. Their home had no television or access to outside influences, and school was with other Seventh Day Adventist members.
From the age of nine she was sexually abused by Bill Giblin, an elder who contributed considerable amounts of money to the Church, and who organised activities for it on his property. Throughout the years, juvenile offenders were sent to Giblin’s property as part of judicial sentencing programs. It was later discovered that he had sexually abused many of the boys and girls under his supervision.
By age 11, in the mid-1960s, Gabrielle had been raped countless times by Giblin. The sexual abuse occurred in paddocks, stables, cars and on his property. ‘He raped me every opportunity he could’, Gabrielle said. ‘He had a stone room at his property that he would put me in and lock me in. I’m claustrophobic to this day. He would rape me, he would force me to have oral sex with him till I vomited, and then he’d leave the room and say, “Clean up the mess”. I had nowhere to go. I couldn’t tell anyone ‘cause he kept saying I’d be given back to the orphanage.’
As a coping mechanism, Gabrielle became addicted to adrenaline: running, riding horses and driving as fast as she could. It was a ‘short term fix’ that gave her a measure of control.
She had four children at a young age and became a full-time mother while working full-time and studying at university. With her children she was controlling and vigilant. ‘I had about three hours sleep for about 10 to 15 years because I had to keep busy, because of the pain.’
When she attempted to tell her partner about the abuse, he responded by asking ‘What girl doesn’t want it?’, and so she ‘shut up for 21 years’.
In the late 90s Gabrielle was on the way to her father’s funeral when she was picked up by police and charged with driving while disqualified. She told the Commissioner she ‘broke down’ and soon afterwards told someone about the abuse. His belief in what she said encouraged her to go to Western Australia Police and report Giblin’s abuse. She also approached the local pastor where she’d been abused. He told his friend who recounted the notification to Giblin. Alerted to impending criminal charges, Giblin moved around the state for nine months so police couldn’t find him.
In the meantime, Gabrielle was again caught driving while disqualified and when the matter came before court, the magistrate gave her a custodial sentence to set ‘a public example’. With two children still at home, the punishment was devastating. ‘Here I am sitting in jail and the perpetrator still hasn’t been charged’, she said.
By the time of her release, Gabrielle’s two teenage daughters were pregnant. The youngest had taken to the streets and was using drugs, so Gabrielle eventually took on the care of her newborn grandchild.
At the time of Gabrielle’s notification to the church pastor, a mediation session had been proposed so that Giblin could apologise for the abuse. This was rejected by Gabrielle, but it indicated to her that he admitted abusing not only her, but also another girl who’d reported him to police.
However, as court proceedings stretched over four years, Giblin denied the abuse. ‘I had the DPP’, Gabrielle said. ‘The perpetrator had a QC and lots of money. The DPP had no money at that time. The perpetrator played every letter of the law. He said he was sick, too old, whatever, didn’t turn up, couldn’t turn up. He had deferment after deferment after deferment. He even pretended to have a heart attack in court in Perth and was taken by ambulance off to Royal Perth Hospital, and was discharged within a couple of hours.’
The judge eventually put proceedings on hold until Giblin’s health improved, citing a duty of care to him. ‘Where was the duty of care to the little kids he’d abused?’ Gabrielle said. Progress on the matter then stopped. To the Church community, Giblin said that if he’d been guilty he’d be in jail and that the fault lay with Gabrielle and the other woman who’d made things up.
In 2006, Gabrielle met her future husband Steven, who listened and believed her account of the sexual abuse. ‘I met this man at 50, and he helped me heal’, she said. ‘I had a voice with him. He allowed me to talk through it all.’
Gabrielle and Steven lodged a formal complaint with the Church for allowing Giblin to remain in the congregation when his offending behaviour was known. An independent investigator appointed by the Church determined that Giblin was a serial offender and concluded ‘probable guilt’ in relation to the complaint against him.
Soon after Gabrielle found Giblin in a nursing home and told him she forgave him. He shook her hand and replied, ‘I want you to know I forgive you too, because you were just as responsible as I was’. Despite this, Gabrielle reiterated her forgiveness. She described this as the moment in which she reclaimed power from her abuser.
Since then, she and Steven have established a community support organisation, working with those who’ve been abused or had difficulties in life. ‘I want people to heal who’ve been through what I went through’, Gabrielle said. ‘And their lives are so messed up … there are avenues to heal. There are. And they’ve just got to be able to tell their story in a group that hears, listens, understands. They feel so much better. A problem shared is a problem halved. It works. It’s true.’