Layla’s mother, Michelle, used and sold drugs and was known to police. When she ‘took off’, Layla and her siblings went to live with their grandmother, Elaine, and her partner, Barrie. ‘He was our new grandfather’, Layla said, but ‘we had to call him “Uncle”.’
Barrie was a merchant sailor, and would take the children out on his ship. ‘He had to get permission, special permission for me to board the ship, because the rules were you’re not allowed to have children or visitors on the ships’, Layla said. ‘If those rules weren’t broken, and I wasn’t taken on the ships, I wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted.’
Towards the end of the 1970s, when Layla was in primary school, Barrie sexually abused her for the first time in his cabin. ‘He gave me some sort of tablet because he said I was sick, but I wasn’t sick, and I woke up halfway through my assault … I was scared’, Layla said. ‘After it happened, like, I was so disappointed, because I actually used to love our grandparents, like they used to give us the world.’
Layla was sexually abused by Barrie, mostly at home, until her mid-teens. She remembers him watching her in the shower. She also remembers her grandmother encouraging her to ‘go sleep with the neighbourhood boys’, and her mother encouraging her to use drugs.
‘I was quite happy never to ever tell anyone what had happened to me’, Layla said. This changed about 15 years ago when her mother Michelle, prompted by her son’s disclosure of sexual abuse, asked if anything had happened to her. When Layla eventually disclosed, Michelle defended Barrie and tried to convince her that another man was responsible.
‘She said, “Well, if you can’t forget this ever happened, we can’t have a relationship”. And I actually told her, I said, “Well, you’re a poor excuse for a mother, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”, and I never spoke to her again’.
A short time later, after a similar conversation with their mother, Layla’s sister Alison told her that she too had been drugged and sexually abused by Barrie. Both sisters now believe that Barrie also abused some of their other siblings.
A few years later, Layla reported Barrie to a local police officer who was more interested in questioning her about the criminal activity of her brothers than giving her the help she was entitled to. After five years in which nothing was done, Barrie was interviewed by an officer in the ‘sex crimes squad’ who took Layla’s second report seriously.
Layla said, ‘There was no evidence, everyone was supporting him, my whole family were’, so Barrie was never charged. Most of the family remain hostile to the sisters, especially since the case has recently been reopened.
About ten years ago, Layla reported the abuse to the Merchant Seaman’s Union, and asked them, ‘What can you do to make sure that it doesn’t happen to someone else?’ When they suggested that she talk to their lawyer, she felt ‘intimidated’ and did not pursue the matter.
About five years ago she received a small payout from the victims of crime compensation scheme, but her claim is currently being reassessed.
Layla believes that her mother knew she was being sexually abused, and introduced her to drugs and alcohol so that she ‘wouldn’t remember’. She said, ‘That’s what’s happened with our family because of the sexual assaults. Everyone’s … hit the drugs hard. Even I did. I only gave up drinking, smoking and everything just recently, about three months ago’.
Alison, who accompanied Layla to her private session, said that she avoided drugs because she was determined not to be like her mother. This got her ‘blacklisted’ from the family.
Both sisters admitted to having trust issues. Layla said, ‘I kind of don’t trust anyone. I don’t trust counsellors. I don’t trust the police. I don’t trust anyone that’s got that little bit of authority, because when they get authority, they abuse it’. Alison trusts no one to mind her kids and keeps them with her ‘full time’.
Layla and Alison have worked hard to improve the life and prospects of their children and grandchildren. ‘They’re not criminals’, Layla said. ‘We’ve had, like, a few of them go before the courts, but we’ve quickly pulled them to the side and said “No” …
‘We’ve steered our kids in the right direction, and that’s because we don’t agree with the upbringing we had. And that’s why we get picked on by the rest of the family now’.