At the age of five, Jade lost all contact with her mother, after her parents separated in the early 1980s. Her father was very violent towards his new partner. ‘I remember the day we left. My father beat the hell out of my stepmother.’ He took Jade and her siblings interstate, to Western Australia, and left them to be cared for by his sister and her husband.
Jade was eight, and she and her sister bunked in with their female cousins. Her brother shared a room with another cousin, Trevor, who was in his early teens. The children’s rooms were near each other, and the adults slept at the other end of the house. Jade remembers clearly the first time Trevor sexually abused her. She was in bed, chatting with her sister, and fell asleep. ‘I woke up because I felt pain in my vagina. He hurt me when he stuck his fingers up in my vagina. He had one hand over my mouth. I found it hard to breathe. I went to say something but couldn’t.’
Trevor told her to be quiet. ‘I tried to squeeze my legs together so he couldn’t get his fingers inside me. He was a lot stronger than me, and I couldn’t push his hand away. He told me he wanted to make me feel good.’ He also said it was a secret, and if she told anyone they would think she was a liar.
Sometimes this abuse would happen every night, and Jade also witnessed Trevor abusing her sister and brother. Her aunt would yell at him to get out of the girls’ bedroom, but never investigated why it was taking him so long ‘to say goodnight’. Jade was around 11 years old the first time Trevor raped her. ‘He didn’t say anything to me. He just had sex with me.’ Another time, he ‘started licking my vagina’.
When she was 12 or so, her dad came and took her and her siblings to live with him, her stepmother and stepbrothers. This lasted a few months before her dad went to prison for a sexual offence. Jade told her stepmother ‘that Trevor, my cousin, had been doing horrible things to me’. They went to confront Trevor’s parents about his abusing behaviour. Her aunt ‘said it was crap’. Her uncle, by then a Uniting Church minister, ‘slapped my face and called me a liar, and told me to get out. He told my mum that I was a tramp and said I should be tested at the doctors’.
Jade had trouble getting along with her stepmother, and ran away. ‘I was on the streets for some time. I got in a bit of trouble and was made ward of the state. I was in and out of hostels.’ Her Department of Child Protection (DCP) caseworker suggested Jade move back in with her aunt and uncle, and she agreed to this.
The DCP explicitly ordered that Trevor not be allowed to stay at the house while Jade lived there. However, ‘within three months Trevor started to sneak into the shed where he used to stay, and then he’d sneak into the house by the back door. He snuck in and raped me, and on other occasions molested me’. The last time this happened the cousin she was sharing a room with woke up, and noticed her distress. Jade disclosed what Trevor had done to her, and another cousin, Sandra, was then informed. Jade remembers Sandra confronting him, saying something like ‘I thought you stopped doing this Trevor, when you stopped with me’.
Jade then left their home and stayed with a friend, who she also told about the abuse. She had taken up drinking and smoking, and began using heroin within a few years. Pregnant at 14, she had two children by the age of 18, but neither remained in her care. During pregnancy, ‘that’s when my nightmares came. I’d wake up screaming. The memories only came by night ... The DCP gave me an “independent” counsellor for some months’.
When she was 18 she reported the abuse to police, but did not proceed with further action at this time. Jade has been seeing the same psychologist since she was 12, but it wasn’t until she was in her late 20s that she began telling her about the abuse. She has experienced strong bouts of uncontrolled anger, and is medicated for ongoing depression. She has also been affected by suicidal thoughts, engaged in self-harming behaviours, and spent time in prison.
Jade made an application to the Western Australian redress scheme. She felt supported throughout the process, but thinks that the $13,500 payment she was awarded was insufficient. Although she appreciated the apology from the government, she would have liked it to have been provided in person.
Jade reported the abuse to police again three years ago. At the time the detective she dealt with explained the potential difficulties and consequences of going to court, but she felt strong enough to proceed. After an investigation, Trevor was charged with offences relating to her and others, and went to trial. He entered a plea bargain with the Director of Public Prosecutions, which Jade was only informed about afterwards. He was convicted on a number of counts of sexual abuse, and at the time Jade spoke to the Royal Commission was awaiting sentencing.
Knowing that she has ‘beaten’ Trevor, by proceeding with successful legal action, has given Jade a strong sense of empowerment. She believes that she ‘was put here for a reason’. Motivated by a desire to help homeless people in her area, she has recently enrolled in a Community Services diploma.