Alyssa’s mother is a drug user and her father an alcoholic. She and her siblings spent most of their childhood in Queensland with various foster carers. In 11 years, Alyssa lived with 21 different families. In three of them she suffered sexual abuse.
Her first long term placement, at age seven, was with a couple she liked, the Taggarts. They were kind to her. There was a number of foster children living there, including Alyssa’s older sister, Nicole. One of the boys was Andy. He was 16 and had lived with the Taggarts for years.
After a few months, Andy began sexually abusing Alyssa. She confided in another girl in care with the family, who told the Taggarts. The police were called in and Alyssa believes they did a good job. They confronted Andy, who admitted the assaults. ‘I remember sitting in the rumpus room and someone asked, “Do you want him to be charged”? And I just said, “Nuh, I just don’t want it to happen again”.’
Andy didn’t touch her again. The episode left her estranged from Nicole, however. Nicole stayed with the Taggarts for years and came to regard Andy as a brother. ‘My sister hated me for it for ages. She only just started accepting it when she found out another foster sister got abused by him too.’
When Alyssa was nine she lived with a couple who were active in the Salvation Army Church, Eric and Jean. Eric regularly abused Alyssa. ‘I was just lying on the couch and that was when he first started touching me. It happened every night when he was saying good night, and he’d do it in the kitchen. He’d wake me up early in the morning so he could do it while he was having breakfast.’
At her next placement Alyssa again mentioned the abuse to a foster sister, who alerted the carer. The police were called, but this time Alyssa felt let down by them. ‘No one explained it to me. I felt I was naughty because he had a wife.’ The police listened to her but she was told there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Eric.
Alyssa found herself with the Pearson family in rural Queensland when she was 12. ‘It was the worst two years of my life. I was severely bullied in school and in my placement … to the point I’d be jumping out of two-storey windows to get away from him.’ Her tormentor was Kurt Barker, another foster child about the same age as Alyssa. ‘It was a daily thing. If he wasn’t sexually assaulting me it was him throwing something at me or terrorising me, like he’d chase me with sticks on fire.’
The Pearsons were barely present. Alyssa suspects they were fostering four children in their home mainly for the money. ‘I believe they spent more on their dogs than they did on us. We lived on spaghetti bolognaise and noodles.’ Eventually word spread around the town that Kurt had abused Alyssa. Her foster father came and punched her.
Alyssa did not bother reporting anything to the DOCS workers. ‘After what had happened when I was nine I thought, “Youse aren’t going to help”, so I just ran away to my mum’s after two years.’
‘My natural instinct was survival. I went through those years doing what I had to do to survive.’ Alyssa’s late teens were tough as well. She developed an alcohol addiction. ‘That’s when I was prostituting myself out to guys to get them to buy me alcohol.’
Alyssa feels DOCS let her down at that time. ‘I had an addiction at 15, 16. Most parents would put their kids in rehab. They did nothing.’
‘I’ve been in counselling pretty much since I was seven … Some of it has helped. Some of it’s just been stupid.’
Alyssa’s life is a work in progress. She is in her early twenties, so her abuse is fresh in her memory. But she is studying again, living with her big brother, and trying to put the past behind her. Alyssa has beaten her alcohol problem.
‘I can get over most shit, but some of this stuff just stuck.’
Alyssa would like to become a foster carer eventually and help give children the home they deserve. She is studying in the field and has a wish list for government.
‘I’d put a lot more money into [DOCS]. More specialised programs, more training and stuff … A lot of them do want to do the right thing … It’s just burn out, lack of training. They’re juggling 30 cases at one time. It’s a bit hard if you’ve got 10 of them with disability or mental health issues.’