Leah was first sexually abused by her foster father, Tyrone Scott, when she was three years old. She was an infant when she and her brothers were taken into care in the early 1980s, and placed with Tyrone and his partner Eva in northern Queensland.
From a young age Leah was expected to do all the household chores, including cooking, cleaning, and caring for her brothers. Eva would flog her if these tasks were not completed satisfactorily.
‘I wanted to be like all the other kids. I would have loved to hang out with my brothers ... I missed out on a childhood. I was never a child.’
Tyrone had problems with alcohol, drugs and gambling, and was extremely physically violent towards Eva. He’d send Eva out of their house, giving her money to go gambling or shopping, to give him the opportunity to ‘have his way’ with Leah.
Other times, the abuse – which included rape – would occur in the middle of the night. Tyrone had his own room, and would drag Leah there from her own bed.
Leah couldn’t even escape Tyrone at school, as he sometimes worked there as the groundskeeper and also the Indigenous counsellor. He threatened Leah that he would kill her younger brothers, and her, if she ever disclosed the abuse.
At some stage, an unknown person made a report to the Juvenile Aid Bureau (JAB) and the Department of Community Services (DOCS). They interviewed Leah, but did so with Tyrone present. She was too scared to disclose the abuse in front of him, and was never questioned on her own.
When Leah was in her early teens, Eva spoke to her about the abuse. ‘She called me over and said, “I know what’s going on. The reason why I’m not here during the day or the night, is because he puts money into my pocket and tells me to go, and if I don’t go, he’s going to bash me.”
‘He used to beat her to a frigging pulp, just so he could get to me. She sat there, she had a cry, but I didn’t cry ... She said to me, that her own father did the same thing to her ... She had a son to her own father.’
Leah said that she tried ‘to hurt myself, to kill myself. I’ve hung myself three times. That was when I was a kid, because I couldn’t take the abuse’. She ran away, trying to find her biological mother. ‘I needed to tell someone. I couldn’t tell anyone at home.’
Eventually, Leah fell pregnant to Tyrone. She had the baby, a girl she called Janie. ‘I was 15. I couldn’t have my daughter in my life. I had to give her up, give her away. I felt like a really bad person, which I still do.’ Tyrone ‘used to tell me that he was going to get custody of our daughter ... after what he did to me’.
She feels a strong connection to her daughter, despite the circumstances of her conception. ‘I grieve for her, because she was my first. I don’t see her as that, [as] paedophilia’s child. She came from my womb. She was from me. If she bleeds, I bleed.’
Leah first disclosed the abuse to an aunty when she was 18, and made a report at her local police station.
‘I did it for my safety, and I did it for my daughter’s safety. I did it because it needed to be said, because otherwise it would have eaten me up. And like many other Indigenous people, women, that are actually being abused, you find them hanging or dead, or they’re all junked up or, you know, an alcoholic, or just sitting and droning away for their life.
‘Whereas me, I saw a light. There was a light at the end of this tunnel, and it was my daughter. When I saw my daughter, she was the one who woke me up.’
The police ‘treated me with respect and kindness. They weren’t judgemental or anything. The detectives actually shook my hand’.
When Tyrone was charged, he tried to convince Leah to drop the matter by offering her financial support. Leah rejected this, and continued with the criminal proceedings against him. She was forced to sit opposite him in court, which she found very difficult.
After initially pleading not guilty, Tyrone pleaded guilty and was convicted. He was sentenced to a lengthy period of imprisonment, but served less than a year.
Leah then engaged a lawyer to seek criminal compensation. She was awarded a significant sum, but around a third of this went in legal fees and expenses. Most of the rest was put towards Janie’s education and upbringing.
Tyrone died around five years ago, right in front of Leah and her daughter. ‘I believe the Lord and the Devil were probing at him, and telling him, “Your day is coming” ... I was relieved.’
As a result of the abuse, Leah finds it hard to leave her house. ‘The only time I go out to town is paydays, and that’s it. Straight home and lock myself in the house ... I’m not actually free within myself because I can’t go out and explore.’
This affects her ability to socialise, and to work. ‘I’m still that quiet person who’s scared to experience something better. I’m too frightened to get a job, because I’m too scared someone’s going to rape me.’
Fearing someone will attack her, she often wakes up around 3 am, the time Tyrone used to come in and abuse her. For a while she was engaged a psychologist, but this therapist has now left and she has not found a new one she likes.
Leah recommended that children in care should be checked on regularly by welfare workers, and be removed from unsafe placements as soon as possible.
She has obtained the files of her time in state care. ‘I’ve read my records, and there are a lot of mistakes in the records, which aren’t true, because they never did come around and visit us once.’
Leah plans to publish her experiences to motivate other kids. ‘I will write my book. And when my book comes out, I will inspire a lot of young people to come forward and speak their story.’