A secret past

On the surface, Laticia Gibson appeared to have it all.

The former country girl was in her 20s and climbing the ranks fast in the city, working as a national reporter on Channel Seven’s Today Tonight.

But bubbling beneath the surface were years of undiagnosed trauma, stemming from the fact that she was sexually abused by a family member around the age of four.

“I was not coping well,” she said. “I had really bad anxiety, insomnia, I contemplated suicide a number of times, several relationships broke down. I was going through a quarter-life crisis because I just hadn’t addressed a lot of issues.”

The sudden deaths of two friends – journalist Morgan Mellish in a Garuda plane crash, and an ex-boyfriend – prompted her to buy a one-way ticket to London on a whim.

But it was only on her return recently that she finally confronted her past.

“I’d always tried to seek help but I never felt like I was getting that breakthrough,” she said. “It wasn’t until about two years ago that I had a group of very supportive friends that allowed me to deep dive into that healing process.”

Ms Gibson, 34, has spoken about the abuse for the first time to Fairfax Media. She will host the National Family Violence Summit in Canberra on Monday, run by the Tara Costigan Foundation and BaptistCare.

A major focus will be the need for early intervention to break the cycle of abuse perpetuated among children exposed to family violence.

About two-thirds of women who experience violence have children and about half of those children witness the violence, the Australian Institute of Family Studies reports.

Last year, the federal government committed $20 million to early intervention such as programs for new fathers and resources for girls to help them identify the early signs of violence.

The NSW government released a four-year early intervention strategylast year including $20 million to fund innovative ideas.

Yet frontline workers say change is slow and children’s education is still grossly neglected.

“We talk about how resilient children are but if you don’t intervene at the right time, they will grow up to be victims and perpetrators,” said Lesley Robson, a BaptistCare domestic violence housing manager who runs a program for children at their western Sydney shelter.

The program, funded entirely by donations, helps children process their experience, understand domestic violence and learn about healthy relationships.

“We have a lot of crisis services but all we’re doing is picking up the pieces,” she said.

“Once children are listened to and if they know people care and that there is a safer way to live then they do recover.”

Ms Gibson, now living in Canberra, went on to endure physically abusive relationships as an adult and said it was only through intense counselling that she could see how the childhood abuse played out in her life.

“I remember as a child being so scared, having really horrible dreams [and] being afraid of establishing close connections with people. The examples I had around me weren’t healthy relationships.”

“I got into quite a number of relationships where the pattern repeated and I’d justify the behaviour because I had no sense of self worth.”

Ms Gibson tried to bring up the abuse several times in the past but her family never believed her.

And, in a blow almost as devastating as the abuse itself, her family effectively abandoned her. She confronted them a year ago to insist they accept what had happened. She is now estranged from her mother.

“It took me months and months to recover from the emotional and psychological trail that it left. It literally brought me to my knees,” she said. “The last thing I expected was to be turned on the way I was.”

Now in a supportive relationship with partner Andrew and running her own media production company, Ms Gibson said she wishes teachers, friends and counsellors who had noticed a sudden change in her as a child “said something rather than sweeping it under the carpet”.

BaptistCare and the Tara Costigan Foundation came together when former BaptistCare employee and Mr Costigan’s niece, Tara, was murdered by her ex-partner while she was holding her baby in her Canberra home last year.

He was sentenced to 32 years’ jail on Friday.


 By Rachel Olding, The Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 25, 2017