‘Because of the English issue, I was behind and I just felt like I never caught up.’
Adalene arrived in Australia as a nine-year-old in the late 1970s. Because of her limited English, she was made to repeat a year and as a result became conscious of being older than her classmates in a Catholic primary school in Sydney.
‘They were all turning 12 in sixth grade and I was turning 13 so I felt like physically, a little bit more developed than them and I was that older age. But I felt like a weird thing, like I was weird because I was older and also that I was, you know I did get called a wog because I looked dark.’
Trying to fit in with her new classmates, Adalene made friends with a group of girls who would talk to the school’s cleaner at lunchtime. This man would sit with girls and talk about his family, telling them ‘how hard his life was’. To Adalene he ‘seemed like a nice man’, but twice she found herself alone with him and on both occasions he reached over and touched her breasts.
‘The first time he did it I really didn’t know what had just happened. I didn’t know why he did that. I found it strange. I didn’t like it and I said to him, “I have to go now”, and I went. I didn’t want to make him angry at me though. I know that, and so I didn’t say anything. I was very careful not to say anything that made him embarrassed as well, which is a weird thought. I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable, which is really strange. So I made sure I finished off nicely with him. And I didn’t want him to feel that he’d done anything wrong.’
The second time the man touched her breast, Adalene realised he’d done it on purpose and left. ‘I said, “I have to go, bye”, and I never talked to him again.’
Adalene didn’t think of telling a teacher or her parents about what the man had done. She’d been subjected to taunts and name-calling by her mother all her life and had been sexually abused as a five-year-old by her father. As a teenager, Adalene experienced further abuse when she took private piano lessons with a man who touched her genitals and suggested she play the piano naked. When she rebutted his attempt to kiss her, the teacher said he thought she liked it. ‘Making out that it was me – that I had allowed all this stuff’.
Throughout her life, Adalene felt she was ‘here to be abused by men’. She hadn’t had any healthy relationships, she said, and had been in many situations of violence and abuse. When healthy men were attracted to her, she’d think ‘they were weird’ and that ‘there was something wrong with them’.
‘I’ve only ever felt a connection, a very strong connection to men that were abusive.’
Adalene told the Commissioner she had two children who were now in their early twenties. Over the years she’d worked in a range of jobs but few had lasted very long. She’d recently moved into a refuge after having been homeless for extended periods of time, and she was accessing services to manage her issues of mental health.
‘On and off through my life I’ve had psychological support’, she said. ‘I used to be treated always for depression. That’s when I would go and present [to health services] but I ended up five years ago being diagnosed with bipolar. I just had a very crazy, chaotic lifestyle with myself and my children because I was never diagnosed properly and I always kept moving all over the state. It was very chaotic and they haven’t had the best upbringing, my children, but luckily five years ago my psychiatrist diagnosed me, because the GP, she said the treatment’s not working for depression anymore.’
She was receiving support from a community organisation for people who’d been sexually abused as children, and staff there were helping in making reports to NSW Police about the piano teacher and her father. Efforts at identifying the cleaner at her Catholic primary school had been unsuccessful.
Adalene said she wondered if having a counsellor or someone who was aware of ‘kids who are migrants’ might have allowed her to ‘be brave to say something’ when she was at school.
‘The abuse that has happened to me, whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological with my mum or sexual with my dad, gardener, piano teacher, and then the abuse that I’ve had at the hands of men, it does kind of strip at you …
‘I said to myself, no wonder you’ve ended up where you’ve ended up, and there’s a reason. If I didn’t have all these bits taken off me I wouldn’t have ended up so broken you know, and now it’s a matter I guess of me trying to put myself back together as much as possible.’