Laurel was born into a large family the late 1950s, and grew up in a small town in South Australia. There was no TV and no sex education, and a lack of affection and closeness. Her father worked a lot and was rarely home, while her distant mother often left the family to be with another partner. Laurel remembers at least three periods when her mother was absent.
While she was in primary school, Laurel was sexually abused by one of her teenage siblings who touched her whenever they were alone. ‘I think initially it was experimenting and then it just went to full sexual intercourse’, she said. ‘It went on until he left home’. Laurel didn’t understand what was happening but she knew it was wrong.
She later learned that other siblings had also been sexually abused, but not always by the same family member.
When Laurel was in her early teens, one of her friends attended a local Pentecostal church, and introduced her to Pastor Bryan Wilson, a married man in his early 30s. With her group of friends, Laurel attended many youth group activities and lessons with Wilson, who became something of a mentor to them.
‘If we were alone, he’d hold my hand and call me his sister-in-Jesus. A few times we went up to [town], and I’d sit in the front and he’d hold my hand. Every opportunity he could get he would give me a hug. He made me feel like someone actually cared about me. I fell for it.’
For a couple of years, Laurel was groomed by Wilson, and saw him as often as she could. About a year later, when the family member who’d been abusing her moved away, she decided to confide in Wilson because they had become so close.
Laurel was then sexually abused by Wilson for several months. She remembers going on rides with him around town and he would take her out on weekends. He kissed her, touched her breasts, and showed her his penis many times. He also told her all the things she wanted to hear. She was excited when he said that he loved her and needed her, and described this part of her life as a fairytale; she wasn’t aware that it was abuse.
Several months later, Wilson moved to a different town. Laurel suspected that the church had something to do with his departure, but he continued to see her on weekends. He travelled over three hours to see her and he kept doing so until she left school. Laurel was almost 18 when they first had penetrative sex.
‘By the time it came to a full sexual relationship, I thought it was love. A love that couldn’t be.’
Laurel then moved to the same town as Wilson. She wanted to be close to him so they could continue their relationship. However, it was short-lived because his wife fell pregnant. Laurel broke off their relationship so he could be with his family.
About a year later, Laurel reported Wilson to Lewis Grey, the local pastor. He told her he and the Church would do something about it, and asked her not to say anything to anyone.
After being abused by Wilson, Laurel couldn’t form relationships. She remembers one of the boys at church asking her why she was single and she told him what had happened. That boy then told Grey who expressed his disappointment in Laurel for telling her story. Laurel was upset that nothing had been done. She left the Church and never went back.
Laurel married young and had several children with her husband, but she did not love him. She felt unsettled. Eventually she reconnected with Wilson, and discovered he had separated from his wife. She then took her children, left her husband and re-established her relationship with Wilson, becoming his wife in her 30s.
The marriage came to an end some years later. She’d learned by then that throughout their time together Wilson had had had many affairs with young women.
‘It was hell. It was not a good relationship. He was the complete opposite of what I thought he was.’
Throughout her adulthood, Laurel has experienced depression and self-esteem issues, and blamed herself for what happened. She is estranged from her family because of the abuse by her family member. Laurel tried to reconnect with him, and has asked for an apology, but he did not respond.
‘He said, “I have no memories of that ever happening”. He won’t talk to me, he talks to my [children] but won’t have anything to do with me.’
In the mid 2000s Laurel discovered that Wilson’s actions were a crime. She reported him to the police but she was told that no further action could be taken because she had married the man who had perpetrated the abuse.