In the mid-1980s Lauren was eight years old and a ward of the State of Victoria. She was living in a group home under the care of Jim and Grace Hudson, who during that year, went on holidays leaving the children in another home with Doug and Fay Burns. During the course of her stay, Lauren and other children were sexually assaulted by Doug and by Fay’s father.
When she returned to her own home, Lauren disclosed the abuse to Grace. ‘I told her I needed to tell her something and then I told her what Doug had done to me. That’s all I remember. [Grace was] angry and upset.’
Grace rang the Aboriginal government agency responsible for Lauren and took her to the police. ‘It was terrifying’, Lauren said. ‘It felt also good to tell them what that person had done to me so he can never harm another child ever again.’
Lauren told the Commissioner she was glad Grace believed her and took quick action. She thought Doug was charged by Victoria Police but wasn’t sure of the outcome. Grace later told Lauren that Burns was wanted by New South Wales Police for child sexual offences, and it didn’t appear there’d been any employment screening before he was given the job of caring for children.
The abuse had an effect on Lauren straightaway, she said. ‘I was withdrawn, scared, angry all the time. Emotional I suppose. I didn’t like anyone touching me, like even touch me on the shoulder, anything. Angry and scared. And as I got older it got worse.’
As well as living with the Hudsons, Lauren spent time in other foster care arrangements but they didn’t last long. ‘My mother came into my life at age 14, and then they sent me off to live with her and things didn’t really work out with her either, so I went to stay at a Aboriginal hostel for girls and then we had a meeting and I got angry and I ran away.
‘And then I started living on the streets and because I was still a ward of the state, the police would pick me up and take me back to the hostel and then I’d do the same thing again, run away. And I was drinking and smoking back then just to like, to block out all the bad things that had happened. And then – I think I was 17 – I started using heroin because the alcohol wasn’t helping and that blocked it out. But then once I’d come down the memories would come back so it was like an on-going process. Then I started self-harming myself a lot like cutting up my wrists. I just felt worthless half the time.’
One thing she was proud of was that she’d been brave enough as an eight-year-old to report the abuse. She was glad the Burns had been immediately sacked from their positions as carers in group homes and that the police had taken action.
Although she’d seen a counsellor after the assaults and at different periods in her life, Lauren said she felt frustrated at having to repeat her story to new people. ‘Every time I tell my story they leave and then I have to see someone else and I have to retell it, and I get attachments to people and then they leave so it’s hard.’