As a baby, Abbie was adopted into a loving family but after her adoptive mother’s sudden death in the early 1970s, Queensland welfare workers decided to remove Abbie and her sister from their adoptive father’s care.
‘Dad had us in the bathtub – he use to bath us together’, Abbie said. ‘And the next thing I know is that these people were there freaking, saying to him – and he was yelling, I know that – and they just ripped us out of the bath and told him that an adoptive father couldn’t bring up two adopted daughters. I can’t see why. He would have done a better job.’
Abbie was eight when she arrived at a government-run children’s home in Brisbane in 1973. One night she heard a child crying out and ‘knew something was wrong’. Going to the girl’s bed, she saw a man lying on top of her.
‘He told me to go back to bed. [He said], “She’s all right”, but I went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife – a bread and butter knife. Do not ask me what I was going to do or what I could do. I remember the next morning she wasn’t there. I don’t know where she went. She was no longer there I can tell you that now. I don’t know if it was because I disturbed them or what, but I copped it from then on.’
The man, who was a worker in the centre, sexually abused Abbie over a period of years, finding reasons to send her to an isolated punishment room where he’d rape her. He also assaulted other girls and though it wasn’t spoken of openly, Abbie said they all had ‘an alliance thing’ and ‘could just sense’ when something had happened to one of them.
After running away several times, Abbie was sent to a youth detention centre where over a period of years she experienced further sexual abuse. A doctor who’d visit the children’s home also regularly came to the youth detention facility and he’d ‘touch breasts, vagina and buttocks’.
For two years, between the ages of 10 and 12, Abbie stayed in a hospital ward because of chronic health problems. She loved it there and felt safe. When the social worker told her it was time to leave and that the only way she’d be readmitted would be with a broken bone, she climbed up onto a wall and jumped off. ‘Most I done was sprained my ankle.’
Back at the centre, Abbie was raped by another worker on numerous occasions and as a consequence became pregnant at 14. Residents of the centre were routinely given sedative medication and Abbie doesn’t recall much of the pregnancy or birth or having the baby taken from her. ‘I don’t know what happened to the child’, she said. ‘I don’t recall signing anything. I was pretty drugged up. The same male worker continued doing inappropriate sexual things to me some time after I had the baby.’
At 16, Abbie returned to live with her father and once again felt safe. Her sister didn’t find her way back to them for some years. Abbie told her father about the abuse and the baby she’d had, but wasn’t sure he believed her. From the time she’d entered residential care, he’d tried to visit her and her sister but been told by workers they didn’t want to see him. Likewise, workers had told Abbie her father no longer wanted to have anything to do with her.
Abbie had her second child at 17 and married the child’s father, a man ‘who used to beat the crap’ out of her. She had several more children but realised she wasn’t coping and contacted Queensland community services staff requesting they be placed in care. She said that in order to be taken seriously and get help, she ‘had to tell them I was going to kill the kids’. It was devastating for her to later learn that three of her four children had been sexually abused while in foster care. Abbie told the Commissioner that she remained in dispute with Queensland community services staff who wanted to take her youngest child into care.
‘What gets me really angry is it happened to my own frigging children all because of my stupidity of trusting the department. Shut them down. I think that’s the only way any kid will be safe. Or shut the corrupt officers down, at least do that.’
As part of the Queensland (Forde Inquiry) redress scheme, Abbie received an initial payment of $7,000 and a subsequent amount of $14,000. She described it as ‘hush money’ and said she wouldn’t have taken it except that she was desperate. ‘A lot of us did say, “Hey, it’s bullshit. If you’re going to pay compensation, you pay something”. You know, I didn’t want to have a baby at frigging 14. My thought was I’ll have a baby when I’m married … I didn’t ask for that to happen to me.’