‘I’ve created a “capable person” that is not actually who I am at all … I’m starting to realise that none of that is real. It’s like I’ve just woken up as a child and I’m looking around and I’m going, “Where the hell am I and where have I been?” Now I have to try and grow up.’
Andrea’s parents divorced when she was six years old, in the mid-1970s. Her mother was living with a mental illness and Andrea had to develop caring skills early. Her father was continually trying to claim custody of her. He was abusive, physically and emotionally. His sexual abuse had awakened Andrea’s sexual awareness early.
By the time she was 13 Andrea was running away from her father and having sex with a boy at one of the houses she would flee to. Her father tried to ‘teach her a lesson’ by taking her to the police.
‘When my case came up I thought it was an opportunity to get away from him. So I said I wanted to be made a ward of the state. I thought that would make it easier.’
Andrea was wrong.
She was placed with a foster family in Melbourne, the Vaughns. ‘The first day I went there to see how I would fit in, I ended up having sex with the youngest son, Warren … When I went there that continued at night time.’ Andrea also had sex with the elder son of the family, Nathan, in exchange for drugs.
One day foster mother Helen Vaughn overheard Andrea complaining about the sex to a friend on the phone. ‘She called all her family around that night and said, “Andrea has said this”. And they all said I was a liar and the whole family hated me.’
The Vaughns went on holiday and Andrea was placed in another relief foster home. There she had sex with various young male relatives of the family. Andrea returned to the Vaughns, but life there became impossible. Andrea began renting a bungalow which belonged to the other foster family she had stayed with. She was working in a supermarket to pay for it, until the ‘foster mother’ began demanding more money.
‘She sat me down in her lounge room and we opened up the paper to look for work for me. And there was an ad in there for “full nude photography”. She suggested I apply for that job.’
‘My job interview consisted of “take off your clothes and turn around. You’ve got the job”.’
The work was really child prostitution. Andrea was 15 years old. She was expected to strip for clients, allow herself to be photographed, and perform sexual acts. Andrea stayed in the job for eight months to a year. ‘I spent that whole time drunk or drugged. I don’t really know.’
She is very critical of the caseworkers she dealt with during her time as a ward of the state. They repeatedly failed to ask ‘the next question’. They knew she had been sexually active. Yet there was no follow-up when Andrea announced she was ‘going out’ with Warren Vaughn. ‘I came back from this placement and said, “I have a boyfriend”. Why did they send me there?… I needed to be protected from any contact with males from that point of view. I couldn’t trust myself.’
Andrea believes she should have been placed with an older couple with no sons living at home. ‘Because I was vulnerable. It’s like sticking a diabetic kid in a lolly shop … You just don’t do that.’
Throughout her teens Andrea suffered from depression and anxiety. She took drugs and drank heavily. She had sex with strangers.
She eventually met a youth worker at a drop-in centre who was leaving Melbourne with her fiance and child. ‘She obviously saw something in me that she wanted to help. She said, “Why don’t you move up to New South Wales with me”? And so I did.’
Andrea found a job she liked and her world began to improve. She fell pregnant. Knowing she was now responsible for another life gave Andrea further incentive to succeed. She admits she has made some poor choices with men over the years, but her children have been her focus and her strength.
Only in recent years has Andrea realised that what she experienced as a child was abuse. ‘It started with that “Hey Dad” thing. I heard that girl and she was talking about what happened and I thought, “That happened to me”. I never thought about it as abuse. I just thought it was my choice …
‘Maybe there were other things at play … It would be really nice for someone to say, “It wasn’t all your fault. It wasn’t just you. And if you were given this opportunity you might’ve been different”.’
Andrea would like to see an overhaul of the foster care system with more checking in place. She believes too many foster care providers are as damaged as the children they take in.
She continues to work on her own healing. ‘I still don’t know how to stick up for myself without feeling guilty and be okay with that. I’ve got a counsellor. She’s helping me work through all that.’