Letitia was 11 years old when her parents separated, in the mid-1980s. Her father abused alcohol, and was violent towards her and her mother. The children all stayed with her mum, but this situation broke down for Letitia.
At 13, she moved in with her father. He continued to drink and physically abuse her, encouraged by his new partner. Teachers at Letitia's school noticed her bruises, and questioned her about these a number of times.
Because her father held a respected position in the community, he was able to intimidate staff. Even after she told them he was beating her, they did not report this abuse for a while. Finally, her year advisor notified Child Protection.
Letitia was placed in foster care, and made a state ward. Her foster mother believed her husband was ‘paying too much attention’ to Letitia, and the placement ended.
She was then sent to a government-run residential care unit in suburban Canberra, where she was usually the only female resident. Blake Smith was in his early 20s, and employed there as a youth worker. He told her, ‘I’m going to look after you’.
Smith first molested Letitia when they were in a car together. He ‘accidentally’ touched her breast, and apologised. ‘I assured him it was fine ... I felt mature in my ability to handle that embarrassing situation, like boobs were no big thing.’
‘I wonder what would have happened, how my entire life would have been different if I had slapped his hand away, called him a perv, and told him if he ever touched me again I would report him. Would I have been a better wife, a better mother? Would I have done better at school, had better relationships? If so, then it is my fault for being weak and wanting him to like me, to take care of me when my family had rejected me also. I was all alone in the world, so it was my fault’.
Smith continued to fondle Letitia, as well as kissing her goodnight, and walking in on her in the bathroom. On outings to the swimming pool, Smith ‘would put my hands down his pants’.
He would reward her with extra privileges including food, and allowing her to watch television. ‘I worried that I was a prostitute ... That my only worth was my body.’
Letitia threatened to report this abuse. Smith laughed and said nobody would believe her. ‘That’s the first time I felt really worthless.’ Her care records indicated ‘red flags’ about changes in her behaviour during this period, but these were never followed up.
At 16, Letitia moved out on her own. Smith found out where she lived, visiting regularly for the next three years. The abuse continued, escalating to oral sex and intercourse, and he would give her food and money. When she told him to stop, he threatened that he could have her put her back into care, as she was not 18 yet. ‘So I didn’t argue anymore.’
When she was 17, Letitia disclosed this sexual abuse to another youth worker, expecting his support. ‘He told me to my face that he didn’t believe me, and that if I knew what was good for me I’d be more careful what I said about people.’
Letitia told Smith ‘to fuck off, and leave me alone’ when she was 19. She had met her husband, and was pregnant. Smith threatened to throw her down the stairs so she’d lose the baby, but did not come back again.
After working in community service fields for 15 years, Letitia became severely depressed, and twice required hospitalisation. She left this kind of work, and has since completed further studies. Although she has accessed a private psychologist, the cost of this treatment has made it prohibitive.
Letitia ‘doesn’t like men’ as a result of the abuse, and has difficulty dealing with male authority figures. She is ‘quick to anger’, which has caused troubles in her marriage. Other impacts have included misusing drugs and alcohol, and self-harming.
At the age of 30 years old she disclosed ‘most of my story ... though not the specifics’ to her husband. She was having recurring dreams that Smith was abusing other girls, and that this was her fault.
Although she knew Smith was still working with kids, she could not bring herself to report him. ‘My shame was still too great. What would my husband think of me if he knew I had taken money for food and sex?’
When she disclosed to a friend she’d known a long time, this woman expressed surprise that she had not been able to stop the abuse. ‘I tried to explain to her what it was like, the fear of him, the manipulation, the fear of rejection, the need for attention, the basic rewards that he used to reinforce his position ... She asked me if I had thought about his wife, or his kids.’
Letitia became very protective of her daughter – ‘I barely left her with her own father, my husband.’ She wouldn’t let her visit friends if there were men in the house, and was wary even of her own family. She did not allow her to have male sports coaches, or even school teachers.
‘I feared that she would be abused, and felt I had to protect her from every man she came in contact with.’ This caused her daughter to rebel, and their relationship became strained.
Recently, Letitia reported the abuse to police, although she still feared she would not be believed. They investigated, and discovered Smith was deceased. This ‘lifted a huge weight’ from Letitia’s mind.
She also submitted a claim for Victim of Crime Compensation. This this has not been a positive experience, as she feels she is being treated ‘like a defendant’. Finding good legal support has assisted with this process.
Letitia’s husband, daughter and extended family all help her maintain her resilience. She is grateful for the support she currently has in her life, after the lack of care in her childhood. ‘People talk about being a survivor. I just had to do what I had to do. I had to look after myself. I had to keep going forward. I had no-one to support me, I had no-one to rely on.’