Born in Perth in the mid-1960s, Lucille was sexually abused from such a young age that she grew up thinking it was normal.
‘The abuse from my father is from my earliest memories’, she said. ‘And I actually thought what he did was what dads did.’
And it wasn’t just her dad that Lucille had to watch out for. Inspired by their father’s example, Lucille’s older brothers abused her as well. Lucille’s mum stood by uselessly, fully-aware of what was going on and doing nothing to stop it.
In effect, almost every aspect of Lucille’s family life conspired to convince her that she had no rights to her own body. ‘Because I’d never learnt or been told that it was okay to say no.’ Yet somehow Lucille knew that the abuse was wrong. She felt it.
‘When I knew I was about to be abused I’d always get this black, horrible feeling in my guts, and I’d feel it go down and it’d almost be like I’d wet myself. There was always this physical response.’
The abuse continued regularly until Lucille was about 10 years old. Then she and her mother moved to a new place and lived together, just the two of them, for the next few years. For the first time in her life, Lucille was able to take a breath and get a fresh perspective. When her brothers began dropping round to see her, she responded to their attacks with new insight and strength.
‘Matthew had a crack at me. Steve had a crack at me, for want of a better word. But I was old enough to be able to get out of the situation that they had me in.’
She soon came to realise, at an intellectual level, that her brothers’ behaviour was not okay. At age 13 she went to her mother and told her explicitly what they’d been up to.
‘And her words were, “Did they get to you?” And I went, “No”. And she pretty much went, “That’s okay then”.’
Appalled by her mother’s response, Lucille ran away. She was picked up by police and, after some negotiations with her mother, was sent to a government-run children’s home. The home was divided into two units: one for young kids and one for teens. Lucille lodged in the young kids’ unit.
‘It took me a few months in there to feel safe’, she said. Early in her stay she snuck into the kitchen and stole a knife. From then on she slept with it under her pillow. But the staff were compassionate and professional and in time Lucille returned the knife to its kitchen drawer.
A short while later she turned 14 and was moved to the teen unit. There she met her new group leader, Ben Chisholm.
Chisholm had access to Lucille’s file and would have known all the details of her family background. In hindsight Lucille believes he began grooming her almost immediately. His main technique was to endear himself to her with ‘poor me’ stories about his difficult life. He gave her gifts, listened to her troubles and held her hand.
One night, when he was rostered to look after the teenagers in the unit, Chisholm took Lucille into the lounge room while everyone else was asleep and had sex with her. Many similar incidents followed – in the storeroom at the unit, in a park and once at Chisholm’s house while his wife was away for the weekend.
‘I didn’t know what to do’, Lucille said. ‘I didn’t know how to deal with it so I ran away.’
Once free from Chisholm’s influence, Lucille found the courage to report him to the deputy superintendent of the home, a man who’d always been good to her. He reported the matter to police and Chisholm was charged with contributing to Lucille’s neglect. He was convicted and received a fine.
Lucille was devastated by the magistrate’s decision.
‘Reading that undone me, completely, because he was more about feeling sorry for Ben. I think one of the sentences are, “It must have been really hard to work in an environment with well-developed young women”.’
Putting Chisholm and the court case behind her, Lucille went on to finish school, marry and have several kids. She was hyper-protective of them, never letting her husband bathe them or change their nappies. She even feared that she might abuse one of the children herself.
‘I had that same, horrible, dead feeling that I get. And I thought that it was me wanting to abuse her. That was my scope on it. And I was horrified.’
Lucille sought counselling and managed to get a grip on her mental health, recovering enough clarity to realise that she was never going to harm her children. Now she’s more worried about other people’s children.
One of Lucille’s brothers has apologised to her on many occasions. She believes that he has sincerely amended his ways and won’t offend again. Her brother Matthew, on the other hand, has never acknowledged what he did, and Lucille feels ‘certain’ that he poses a danger to kids. She asked the Royal Commission to refer his name to police.
Lucille is happy to talk with police about the abuse – she’s happy to talk with anyone.
‘The lesson I’ve learned from abuse, whether it be institutional or from the home, is that you need to stand at the top of the highest building and shout it out.’