Laura told the Commissioner that she was abused so many times growing up she began to think it was normal.
‘It never ended, it was from one incident to the next incident and it just continued from place to place … I thought that’s what happens. But I didn’t like it.’
Laura was born a male child in the late 1960s but from the age of five always identified as female, often stealing clothes so that she could dress as a girl. Her home life was unstable and she moved through various living situations with family members, was expelled from several schools and spent time at a children’s mental health unit.
At age 10 she was remanded at an institution for 20 days ‘for being uncontrollable and stealing female clothes’. She was released into her mother’s care but after being caught stealing clothes again she was returned to the institution and lived there for several years. During this time she was abused multiple times by a number of offenders including a doctor, a Catholic priest and one of the institution’s officers.
Laura made her first attempt to report the abuse when she was about 13 years old. She mentioned it to one of the workers while he was driving her to a medical appointment. ‘And then he stopped his van and did things to me. It just seemed everyone did it.’
Sometime later she was moved to a children’s home run by the De La Salle Brothers. Within the first few weeks a worker named Michael began to abuse her. The abuse became a regular pattern that occurred almost every night.
Laura repeatedly tried to escape from the home but was always caught by the police and brought back. She told the Commissioner that she was too terrified to tell anyone what was happening and recalled that Michael would often show her his collection of rifles and make threats about what would happen if she ever spoke up.
‘I soon learnt that there was no point in objecting because this is what my life was going to be no matter what and I kind of accepted it.’
While she was still suffering abuse from Michael, Laura was targeted and abused by two Catholic Brothers who worked at the home. On some occasions the abuse involved other children.
Several years went by and then one day another child caught Michael in the midst of abusing Laura and reported him to the head Brother. The head Brother’s name was Brother Oliver and he was one of Laura’s abusers.
‘We went to his office and he asked me if Michael had been doing anything with me. I didn’t answer him straight away because I thought it was a kind of trick, but then I nodded my head, meaning yes.’
Brother Oliver then told her that he would take care of everything and the next day he announced at assembly that Michael had left the home. Laura sensed that the other children knew the reason why.
‘Most of the other boys looked at me and started mumbling amongst themselves. I felt so hated by everyone at this point in time … When class had finished for the day I was called Michael’s lover and boyfriend and they just didn’t stop with the insults that I hated everything in my life and wanted to roll up and die.’
Laura absconded from the home at age 15 and spent much of the next three years living on the streets and working as a child prostitute. During that time, she was in and out of various children’s homes and spent time in jail where she was abused on two separate occasions by other inmates.
Laura struggles every day with the impact of the abuse. In particular, she feels that she was denied an education and the opportunity to build a decent life.
‘I would have been better off being killed as a child than living through what I’ve lived through. And I would have preferred it. And they say the good die young, and as I get older I feel like I’m bad because I’ve done nothing … just feel like I don’t have a life. I’d rather be dead. I’m not going to kill myself, but I’d rather not remember it. I hate flashbacks, I hate the nightmares and I break down when I hear about people getting abused and kids getting taken, because nothing’s been done.’
She has received several payments from the De La Salle Brothers but told the Commissioner that what she really wanted was an apology.
‘I offered them this: I would accept no money if you get Brother Oliver, Michael and Brother O’Rourke just to apologise to me. I would not pursue criminal charges and I would not pursue a claim against them. And they ignored it.’
She finds it ridiculous that her settlement deed included a declaration that the payment was not an admission of responsibility. ‘I said, “My neighbour needs a payout, can you give him a payout?” And they said “Why?” and I said “Because you’re not admitting to it but you’re giving me the money”.’
Laura would like to see mandatory sentences and harsher penalties for sex offenders, and she wants police and other authorities to reach out to children at risk and make it easier for them to tell their stories.
Laura’s own children have kept her going through the difficult times.
‘I’ve overcome a stage of being suicidal because of Nicole and our two kids, and I want to give them a life I never had. I live my life through them, that’s all I can do.’