‘My first memories are abuse. I come from a very disturbed background, disturbed family. My mother was an alcoholic and my father was close to being an alcoholic. He was very violent.’
Born in the early 1960s in regional New South Wales, Gail was first sexually abused when she was four years old. The perpetrator was her nine-year-old brother, Frank. He abused her almost every day for many years, starting with inappropriate touching and progressing to rape.
As far as Gail knows, Frank was not sexually abused himself and didn’t sexually abuse any of his other siblings. The only explanation that Gail has for his behaviour is that maybe he learned it from one of the many pornographic magazines that their father left lying around the house.
Frank sometimes threatened to get Gail in trouble if she ever told anyone what was going on. His threats were redundant: the whole family already knew.
‘My whole family knows. My brothers, my sisters, my aunties, my uncles, my father. My uncle caught him, actually caught him one night. Everybody knows … I had a sister that used to sleep in the same room. I’ve got a sister that’s in the same ballpark as my brother. She did the same thing to me, only she never touched me. She used to scare me and make me do it with my brother.’
Eventually Gail’s mother, herself a victim of physical and sexual abuse, ‘couldn’t handle it anymore’ and abandoned 11-year-old Gail while they were out one day. The police got involved, Gail was made a ward of the state and sent to a state-run girls’ home.
Around this time she made her first statement to police, telling them everything that Frank had done. She told the same thing to the housemaster at the girls’ home, and he reassured her that the problem would be taken care of.
‘I was actually told that my brother was being dealt with, back then, so there was no reason for me to be alarmed anymore … Then years later, as a woman when I grew up, I found out that he hadn’t been dealt with and nobody had said anything and it hadn’t been investigated.’
Gail spent many years living in state-run girls’ homes where she was sexually abused several times. The first incident happened when she was 11. A group of older girls grabbed her one day and ‘did a couple of things they shouldn’t have done’.
The rest of the abuse came from Gail’s sports coach, Mr Baran. Gail can’t remember if he worked for the girls’ homes or her high school.
‘There were other girls that had been abused by him as well. We’d be sitting in the car on our way to [training] and he’d put his hands between our legs, just stuff like that. Any times he could get his hands on one of us he would.’
Fortunately, Gail said, she wasn’t one of Baran’s ‘favourites’ and the abuse he inflicted on her was minor compared to what Frank had done – and what Frank was continuing to do. For years the Department of Community Services (DOCS) removed Gail from the girls’ home every holidays and sent her back to her family home where Frank abused her again and again.
Gail said that the abuse made her stronger – ‘I never went around worrying about it, I just got on with it’ – but it also deprived her of the life she wanted. ‘It stopped me from getting married, it stopped me from having children, it stopped me from leading a normal life just like anybody else.’
In her mid-30s Gail was busy ‘getting on with’ life when she saw a photograph that set her on a new path. The photograph showed Frank with his daughter – Gail’s niece. Concerned for the little girl’s safety, Gail decided to take action. As her first step she contacted DOCS and asked for her file.
‘Before I opened the file, DOCS warned me that it would ruin my life, which is exactly what it’s done. I read the file and I found out that nothing had been done. My complaints were there … there were people looking into it that I didn’t know about but as far as I know the police didn’t do anything.’
Gail then reported the matter to police herself.
‘Joint Investigation Team took it on for about three years. They let me sit there for three years. Then they told me that that’s the way it worked back then and there was nothing that they could do about it.’
So Gail decided to sue her brother and her family. She hired a lawyer and had a court date ready when ‘all of a sudden I become untouchable. I become untouchable and they palmed me off with a victims compensation payment’.
Though she was frustrated with her lawyers, Gail was pleased with the compensation payment – not because of the money but because of the acknowledgement that came with it. ‘I was a very proud person that day.’
These days Gail has nothing to do with her family and doesn’t know if Frank is alive or dead. She doesn’t think much about the abuse anymore.
‘When you’re a young kid and you’re putting up with what you’re putting up with, you become immune to it. It’s just the way that things are. I mean, I just accept things. I don’t go with trauma. Trauma just like goes over the top of my head for some reason. Because I put up with it for so long, I’ve been around it for so long, now it doesn’t bother me.’