For Alisha the long-term consequences of the abuse were not only psychological but physical as well. When she was 13 four men attacked and raped her, causing serious internal injuries. In hindsight she regrets not reporting the matter to police or her mother, but at the time both options seemed impossible.
‘I’d grown up not to feel that the police were people that you could really go to. And my mother didn’t have a relationship with me that you would call bonded or maternal … She was already that judgmental and critical of me I knew it would basically be the final straw.’
It was the late 1990s and Alisha was living in a small New South Wales town. Her home life was violent and dysfunctional, so it wasn’t easy to cope with the added burden of complicated health problems, but she did the best she could.
The good news, she said, was that after the rape she sought out some counselling and managed to kick her drug habit. Unfortunately, while this aspect of her life was improving, the violence at home was getting worse. One night her stepfather hit her and she had to go to hospital for treatment. The welfare department intervened and put her into foster care with the Parkes family. No one told them about her history.
After a few weeks with the Parkes, Alisha injured her back at school and was told that she’d have to get an x-ray. She panicked, thinking that the x-ray would reveal her internal injuries, and decided to get in first and tell her foster mother about the rape. Also, she said, ‘I was a little bit glad for an opportunity to get help, because I knew I needed it’.
Alisha did not get the reaction from her foster mum that she’d hoped for. ‘Her response was “If you’ve not told us that, what else haven’t you told us?” And so I felt terrible.’
The next day Mrs Parkes took her to a doctor to be examined. By now she had decided that she didn’t believe Alisha’s story about the rape. When the doctor confirmed that Alisha had had sexual intercourse, Mrs Parkes seemed to feel betrayed. She turned on Alisha, mocking her and threatening to tell her mother about everything.
Still, she took Alisha to give a statement to the department. ‘And they spent the afternoon convincing me that I had got it wrong.’ The department officer told Alisha he would refer the matter to police, but that never happened.
‘I really lost a lot of faith in the world at that point, in general. Because it had taken so much for me to even get the guts to try and put that into words.’
Alisha’s relationship with Mrs Parkes became increasingly toxic and eventually she was moved to a new placement under the care of Lyn and Matthew Hannah. Life with them was unpredictable and occasionally violent. Lyn was ‘extremely moody and controlling’ and would fly into fits of rage.
The last thing Alisha wanted to do was confide in Lyn about her medical problems but the situation got so bad that she had to speak to someone. ‘I was getting really sick. I was scared I was going to end up dead at that point.’
She told Lyn and was surprised by her response. ‘Whatever Lyn and Matt did, they did listen. They did believe me. They were very upset.’ They took Alisha to the hospital where she started to get some of the treatment she needed. But after this small moment of compassion Lyn returned to her old tricks, using Alisha’s history to emotionally blackmail her.
Lyn also started to approach Alisha in a sexual way, touching and tongue kissing her. She became more controlling, telling her she wasn’t allowed to sleep or shower alone. So, shortly after Alisha’s 16th birthday, when Lyn announced that she was going away for the weekend, Alisha felt relieved.
As soon as Lyn was out the door Matt started behaving strangely. He insisted on cuddling Alisha. She confided in her friend Cathy, who was visiting at the time, saying she was ‘freaking out’ and didn’t know what to do.
‘I remember her crying and going “I don’t know what you’re going to do either, Alisha”. … She’s gone, “Maybe just do whatever you can but if it was me, don’t put up a fight this time because you’re not well enough”.’
Later that day Alisha ended up performing oral sex on Matt so that he wouldn’t want to have intercourse with her. The scheme worked, but only briefly. The next day Matt drove her to a secluded area and had sex with her in the car. It was agony for Alisha and she bled a lot.
Matt had sex with Alisha again during the week. As the days went by Alisha couldn’t bear the stress of keeping a secret from Lyn and she blurted it out. Oddly, Lyn didn’t seem to care. After that the department found out and everyone was called in for an interview. The officer berated Matt but nobody said a word about Alisha’s psychological or physical wellbeing.
Alisha didn’t want to go back to Lyn’s place so she ended up living with Matt. Before she was 19 she had two kids by him. Eventually Matt ‘went bonkers and hit the bottle really bad. Most people would be upset when their partners do that, whereas it was my opportunity to stand on my own two feet’.
Alisha has since had a third child with another man. She doesn’t live with him but they share the parenting and get along well. Now she does her best to put the dark times behind her for the sake of her children.
‘I’m very, very grateful. I know it’s not the way to have your kids but I really, really do love them. They’ve given me the family and security that I needed.’