Angela was born in New South Wales in the 1970s and grew up in southern Queensland. Her first memory is of a dispute between her parents. Their violent relationship ended when her mother left her father when Angela was five years old. She and her mother moved every six months or so and Angela went to many different schools. Her mother found another partner and had two more children. That relationship also ended and her mother took up with another man when Angela was 12. Angela’s relationship with this stepfather changed her life.
Angela witnessed him physically abuse her younger brothers. Feeling protective, she stood up to her stepfather. They did not ‘see eye to eye’. He became violent towards Angela and she started acting out. She was considered to be a terrible teenager and at 13 was made a ward of the state.
Angela went to a number of foster homes – more than she can remember. At 14 she was placed with Jill Gordon and her husband, who were in their 30s. The Gordons had four children of their own. Angela recalls Mr Gordon was a nice person but Jill Gordon and her children were verbally and physically abusive. Angela told the Commissioner, ‘They used to starve me, not feed me for a few days at a time … Sometimes they would lock me in a shed overnight … full of cobwebs and bugs … She used to let her children spit on me … Her kids were allowed to come and kick me and hit me and push me … I was not allowed to react. I was never allowed to respond.'
One night, when Angela was 14, Jill Gordon, her children and three children from a neighbouring house who were also foster kids, were playing Spotlight. This was a game whose object is to find someone in the dark. Angela was hiding when the two girls from the neighbouring house, aged 14 and 18, grabbed her and carried her through the backyard. ‘Then they pinned me down and I saw that my foster mum was there … and she had her four children lined up next to her. She said “Watch this. This is what happens to tarts.”
'And then I was raped by a 12-year-old, two 14-year-olds and a 16-year-old boy.’ It was clear to Angela that Jill Gordon had planned the event. She had a chair out to watch from and her young children were made to watch.
Shortly after there was another incident on another day. The same two girls grabbed Angela and pinned her to a chair in the backyard. The two boys, aged 12 and 14, were present. Angela was sexually abused but this time it was far less physically invasive. Again, ‘she’ was watching but this time she didn’t force her children to watch, although they were in the backyard when it occurred.
Angela did not tell anyone what happened. Her foster mum told her not to tell anyone and threatened to do a lot worse to her if she did. Angela was told that the previous foster girl left the house in a wheelchair. Angela was terrified. She told the Commissioner that she kicked up such a fuss with her case worker, telling her that the Gordons were mean but without speaking about the sexual abuse, that she managed to get removed from that family. She had been there for about two months.
Angela was returned to her mother’s care. Her mother read a diary that Angela kept where she had written about the abuse she had suffered. Her mother called Angela a liar and put a knife to her throat. After that Angela went to a government home for girls. This was a positive experience where the girls were prepared for independent living. There, Angela unintentionally disclosed her sexual abuse to the supervisor, who encouraged Angela to go to the police. She did so but was told there was not enough evidence, and that the incident was a year ago and it was too late. The supervisor expressed an opinion that the Gordons should not be allowed to be foster parents any longer. However, Angela doesn’t know if any action was taken.
‘Foster care left me with a label as a risk as a parent … I’m deemed a risk because of what I lived through’, Angela told the Commissioner. One of her children was taken from her by the department for 18 months when he was an infant ‘due to an incident between me and law’. However, when the department returned her child, they acknowledged that ‘they had made a mistake’.
Angela still finds intimacy difficult. She said it’s hard for her to trust others. Her childhood abuse has made her an ‘aggressive person’ when it comes to issues she is passionate about. Angela smoked a lot of marijuana in the past. However, she has been clean for five years, and says she is fit and active. She has four children aged between two and 19 years, and has been in a supportive relationship for the past 10 years. She and her partner have been to counselling together.