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Shayla's story

Shayla grew up in Sydney in the 1980s with her mother and two sisters. For as long as she could remember, they would spend the holidays at a farm commune in northern New South Wales, which her mother’s friends co-founded. Built on the principles of Zen Buddhism, the community rejected western values and embraced free love. It was common for men to have relationships with younger females to help them explore ‘sacred sex’ and enter womanhood. Members who questioned these activities were considered ‘stick-in-the-muds’.

When Shayla was 13 years old, her sister became ill just before the holidays. Her mother decided that Shayla would go to the farm on her own for the holidays while she took care of her sister at home. Shayla, already felt neglected, arrived at the farm to find it largely empty. Rather than sleep in an isolated cabin on her own, she decided to visit Gary Bailey, an adult who lived on the farm and who had always been very friendly towards her.

‘Gary Bailey, who was around 40 years old at the time … gave me marijuana to smoke. From there it very quickly progressed to invitations back to his house where he filled me up on marijuana and hallucinogenic magic mushrooms.’

On one occasion while Shayla was experiencing a drug induced ‘trip’, Bailey kissed her for the first time and their relationship quickly escalated to a sexual one. They would go on outings to neighbouring towns together, and Shayla started spending most of her time with him.

‘He would tell me that I was a young witch who had cast a spell over him. That what we were doing was absolutely fine but that other people wouldn’t understand so we couldn’t tell them.’ Bailey also offered to perform an ‘operation’ on Shayla, which involved cutting her vagina to make it large enough for him to have intercourse with her. ‘At the time it felt like he was the only person supporting me, emotionally and practically, and that we were in a loving relationship, albeit a secret one.’

During this time the commune became rife with gossip, and Shayla recalls adults telling her she was behaving precociously and that it was okay to have relationships with boys her own age but not older men. At no stage did any of the adults ask her directly about the relationship or enquire about her wellbeing. By the time she got back home rumours had reached her mother, who asked if anything had happened with Bailey. ‘I shut the conversation down and that was the last I heard about it from her.’

After the holidays Bailey continued to call and write while sending Shayla gifts of marijuana, which led to her developing a daily drug habit. Bailey tried to organise trips to Sydney, but Shayla made excuses not to see him and eventually stopped replying to his mail.

Shayla continued to abuse drugs on a daily basis until she was 15 years old, replacing it with a series of destructive relationships and problematic sexual behaviours. By the time she was 19 she felt like she was out of control and sought therapy. After disclosing the abuse to her psychologist, she reported it to the police and her mother. A junior police officer took her statement ‘and that was the last I heard of it’. After reading a transcript of her statement, Shayla noticed that it included significant errors, was not signed by the officer and was not properly submitted.

Shayla’s mother did not ask for any details about the abuse, how she felt or what she needed, but she did contact a senior member of the commune who asked Shayla what she wanted to do about it and if she intended to press charges. The matter was raised at the next commune meeting where it was decided Bailey would stay within the community. ‘The rationale being that it was safer if he was there under their watchful eyes than roaming at large in the wider community.’ Shayla also believes politics played a role in this decision, since Bailey was a founding member and they didn’t want to give the nearby township further excuse to dislike the commune’s presence in the area.

Some weeks later Shayla received a card from the commune accompanied by a blank journal for her to write her thoughts in. Her mother wrote a letter of complaint and in turn received a letter stating that the commune could take no responsibility for the abuse and it was her fault for sending her daughter there alone and unsupervised. This response made Shayla feel as though she was the blame for the abuse, that her worth was negligible and that she was making a fuss over nothing.

Shayla’s anxiety reached a point where she could not work or leave the house. She had a nervous breakdown and committed herself to a rehabilitation centre. After leaving rehab she underwent a 12-step program for sex and love addicts, which she found enormously helpful.

Shayla was contacted by another girl from the farm who revealed that Bailey had had numerous other sexual relationships with young girls, which was known to community members, and that he still lived on the farm and was a known drug dealer in the area. Shayla made another attempt at reporting Bailey and the matter is still pending. Shayla has never sought legal advice or compensation, but would like to see the subject of child sexual abuse openly discussed in communes.

Shayla continues to receive counselling and is currently in a committed relationship with a partner who is very supportive. While she has finally reached a point where she is happy with her life, she recognises it has taken a considerable amount of work to get there.

‘I’ve spent a huge amount of my time, finances and energy on therapy, counselling, recovery and healing. This is my path to tread in life and I am now for the most part grateful that I have had the opportunity to heal when many haven’t, and I am actually very happy with my life right now. But I must acknowledge that it has taken a considerable amount to get to this point of physical, emotional and mental health.’

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