Anna Sue's story

When she was 12, in the mid-1990s, Anna formed a relationship with an 18-year-old, Drew. Anna described it as ‘fooling around’ – they just kissed, she said – but her parents didn’t see it that way. They reported Drew to police, and he was charged with carnal knowledge.

Anna and Drew continued to meet and, feeling unable to manage their daughter, Anna’s parents turned to a parent support group for help. One day when Anna got home from school an unfamiliar woman was sitting on the sofa, talking to Anna’s mother. She was from the support group.

‘She said, “Do you know how disgusting you are? Do you know that your mum has to wash your underwear? You’re a filthy little girl”.’ The woman convinced Anna’s parents that she should be sent to a foster home in a Queensland town not far from where the family lived. ‘I didn’t say anything, I didn’t argue it until we were in the car and I started screaming at Mum and Dad, “Don’t make me go!”’

Anna’s belongings were packed in a single suitcase, which the family had brought with them when they emigrated to Australia several years before. Anna still remembers her father carrying the suitcase up the steps to the front door of the foster home.

‘[Dad] just left me there. I was 12 years old. This woman told my mum and dad it was for the best. That it was the only way for me to be taught a lesson.’

Anna shared a room with Irene, another girl being fostered by the family, who was also about 12 years old. Things were okay at first. Then one day the dad, Lester, offered Anna alcohol. ‘He said, “If you stay home and clean the house for the day, I’ll buy you a bottle of rum and you can get pissed.”’ Shortly after this, Lester started telling both Anna and Irene to leave the bathroom door open when they showered. Then he started getting into their beds at night.

‘He would walk into the bedroom and he would climb in beside us, and he would rub his hand up the inside of our legs and lick our ears until he ejaculated.’

Anna spoke to her best friend at school about what was going on, and it was reported it to the school counsellor. Anna was called out of class by the principal and asked to confirm the story, which she did. She didn’t go back to the family after that.

‘DOCS was called and they rang my dad’, she said. At first her parents didn’t believe her. They thought she’d invented a story to make them come and pick her up. But they were eventually persuaded. Her father went to the local police to report Lester’s abuse but was advised against it – Lester and his family were highly respected in the community, he was told.

Back at home, ordinary life resumed. The suitcase Anna had taken with her to the foster home was returned, and when she opened it she found pictures ripped out of pornographic magazines, and semen stains on her things. There was no discussion within the family of Anna’s experiences and no counselling or other support offered. At school, her part in Drew’s prosecution for carnal knowledge was widely known, as her parents had given permission for her name to be used in news reports about it.

‘I was told by my friends at school that I was nothing but a dirty, dirty girl.’ No one helped her, she said – ‘No one at all.’

At 17, Anna began a relationship with a man who later became her husband. They had several children together, bought a house, worked and paid off the mortgage. But after 10 years, things fell apart. Anna separated from her husband and became addicted to drugs. She formed a new relationship with a partner who violently abused her. After some dreadful attacks, he was charged by police; he had recently been convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term, she said.

Anna herself was in prison for a range of offences when she spoke to the Commissioner. In the years before her imprisonment she’d become estranged from her family. But since being in jail she’d been helped by a prison support group to reconnect with them. The counselling she’s received through the group has been very valuable, she said.

‘Being able to actually talk to one person and know that they’re listening … They help explain parts of things that I don’t understand.’ She believes it would make a difference if this kind of specialised counselling was more widely available, especially in schools.
‘If young children are made aware that it’s okay to talk, and that maybe talking to somebody is going to be the very thing that saves them.’

Anna has been trying to make sense of the trajectory from her relationship with the loving man she married – ‘He never raised a hand at me, and he worked very, very hard to come home and give me and the children everything’ – to all that followed.

‘To go from that extreme prior, to this extreme afterwards – it’s been a hell ride’, she said. Looking back, she believes her relationship with Drew is at the heart of all that went wrong. ‘He tricked me’, she said. ‘I was a very, very young girl.’

When Drew was charged with carnal knowledge, he told police the relationship had been instigated by Anna. Anna felt the police blamed her: ‘They told me that I was a very immature person and that what I’d just done had caused a man to lose his [reputation].’ She has never tried to report the abuse by Lester. ‘No, I didn’t’, she said. ‘Because there’s something about it that makes you feel like you’re not worthy of being heard.’

Despite the permanent injuries left by her ex-partner, she doesn’t plan to seek victims of crime compensation.

‘I don’t want to. He’s behind bars now. And I still have a foot in the door for a life. He walked away from me when he thought he’d taken every bit of my life out of me. He thought he’d done the job, and I survived. And I’ve survived for a reason.’

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