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Annabelle's story

‘I’m so used to losing anyone I care about or anything I love. I’m just used to it, and I expect it now.’

Annabelle was born in Queensland in the 1990s. Her mother was an alcoholic, and her mother’s boyfriend sometimes sexually abused her, so she would often run away, or spend time living with relatives. Just before she hit her teens, her mother kicked Annabelle out of home, and she became a ward of the state.

Annabelle spent several months ‘in and out’ of different foster homes before her Department of Family and Community Services (DOCS) caseworker, Martina Lopes, placed her in the care of Ryan Donaldson, a man in his mid-20s who lived beneath his parents’ Queenslander-style home. Annabelle described being ‘tricked’ into staying with Donaldson who groomed her, and made her feel ‘cool’ because an older guy liked her.

The living conditions provided by Donaldson where ‘inhumane’ and like a ‘prison’. During her two-year stay, Annabelle slept on a broken bed, lived on concrete floors, and was never allowed out unless it was to go to school or go out with Donaldson. She was also subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse – including penetrative intercourse - on an almost daily basis.

Annabelle’s caseworker visited the property on a number of occasions. However, she never came into the house, or spoke to Annabelle directly, so Annabelle was not able to disclose the abuse. With approval from DOCS, Donaldson became Annabelle’s foster father and was placed on her care plan. She felt trapped.

‘Every day I’d get bashed … My caseworker would come out and see me every week and she would see me covered in bruises. She knew [Donaldson] … Of course I wasn’t going to say anything.’

In the in the 2000s, Annabelle fell pregnant. Not yet in her mid-teens, and not knowing what pregnancy was, she believed that she was ‘dying’. The abuse by Donaldson did not stop, so she tried to escape.

‘There were all these road workers up at the end of the road so I’d thought I’d run to them. [I was] screaming for help. [Donaldson] suddenly saw me and dragged me backwards. I was kicking and screaming and everyone just stopped and stared. They did nothing.’

Shortly after, Donaldson was charged and in custody for a crime unrelated to his treatment of her, and Annabelle was given a Department of Housing flat. After giving birth, she struggled with post-natal depression and ‘conflicting thoughts’ about her baby. She had no parenting support from family or services, and few ‘living skills’ to help her understand and cope with her new role and responsibilities.

After his release from prison, Donaldson forced entry into Annabelle’s flat and demanded to see the child. When Annabelle refused, he attacked her. ‘All I could do was put my hands up and cover my face’, she said. She woke up in hospital with substantial injuries.

DOCS subsequently told Annabelle that if she couldn’t protect herself, then she couldn’t protect her baby who they then removed from her care. Unaware that the arrangement was temporary, or that she could work towards reunification, Annabelle felt worthless and as if she had nothing to live for. She developed depression, and later had difficulty reconnecting to her son.

Annabelle said that Donaldson was charged and sentenced for physically assaulting her, and thinks that he was charged for sexually abusing her as well. The matter took several years to finalise, and the sentence was ‘too low’, but she understands that Donaldson is now on the sex offenders registry.

In her teens, Annabelle started a relationship with a drug dealer and was able to ‘use everything and anything’. She contracted diseases as a result of her drug use, and had a mental breakdown and bouts of self-harm while undergoing a painful withdrawal process.

Anabelle has been in several violent and abusive relationships with men, and had a second child to one man who wanted nothing to do with her first. She trusts no one, generally ‘hates’ people, and describes herself as person with no ‘self-respect’ who is nasty and uncaring. Her ongoing addiction to illegal and prescription drugs helps her to feel normal, and to cope with her trauma and social alienation.

Annabelle is estranged from her first child, who is currently under a care and protection order, but has shared custody of her second. She is very concerned for their welfare, and is overwhelmed by the need to support and guide them while she is serving her current prison sentence.

While inside, Annabelle has been able to increase her capacity to cope on her own, and has benefitted from a counselling program. She struggles with the effects of drug withdrawal, and with the intensity of her psychological problems. She has placed her name on a list to see a psychiatrist, but expects that her first appointment is still many months away.

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