After being hospitalised with scabies and boils, eight-year old Isabelle was taken from her alcoholic mother and placed in the care of her aunt Lyn. She arrived at Lyn’s Western Australian home in the late 1970s and within the first few weeks was sexually abused by Lyn’s 19-year-old son, Craig.
‘We were scared of Aunty Lyn, so we did everything that she told us to do. I remember her telling us all, “Go and get wood with Uncle Craig. Go and get wood with Uncle Craig”. And I’m crossing the paddock and I’m thinking, “Where are the rest of the kids?”’
Having trapped Isabelle away from the other children, Craig attacked her. His younger brothers watched. Later, clutching her torn clothes, Isabelle went to Aunty Lyn for comfort. She received none. Looking back, Isabelle feels sure that Lyn knew ahead of time that Craig was going to abuse her – and she didn’t care.
‘I couldn’t help what happened to me, because I believe I was in a gang of, “It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. You can’t get away from it, it’s going to happen”, because she’s going to allow it. She’s going to allow her sick son to do whatever he wants.’
A week later, Isabelle was sexually abused by one of Craig’s younger brothers. He continued to spy on her for years to come.
At age 15, after copping a particularly harsh beating from Aunty Lyn, Isabelle ran away. She lived with some relatives for a while before, at 17, she had her first child and moved in with the child’s father.
Life with her child’s father was much the same as life with Aunty Lyn: Isabelle was bashed and treated as a slave. After several years and more children, Isabelle split from her husband. Struggling with depression and anxiety, she lost custody of her children and ended up living on the streets.
Isabelle has spent much of her life homeless and now lives with her daughter in a small flat. She is estranged from some of her other children. For a while she raised one of her grandchildren, but it’s been years now since she’s seen her granddaughter.
‘I don’t see her anymore because my kids think, I don’t know, they think I’m an arsehole. They think I’m useless. But I’m not. I’ve struggled all my life, and now I just wish that they’d love me again.’
Because of complex family issues, Isabelle has never reported her abusers to police. She’d like to but first she wants to make sure that her cousin Jenny, also a victim, is willing to join her in the case. ‘I just don’t want to bring up something that’s going to hurt her. I can’t do it.’
Meanwhile, Craig is currently in jail, though he might soon be released. ‘As far as I’m concerned,’ Isabelle said, ‘he’s right where he is. Because if he ever did come back here, I’d kill him.’
Isabelle feels a strong sense of responsibility to Craig’s other victims and to all the women in her family.
‘I believe that I’m the strongest out of all of us. I didn’t drink, I didn’t abuse any drugs … I’m a carer. I believe I’m a strong carer for my mob. I’m a counsellor for them. I’ve cared for them. It’s a big thing in my life.
'People tried to hurt me, you know. They got away with it, but gee I’m strong. I’m made to be here for a reason, and that’s to help others.’