Born in the mid-1990s, Anna grew up with a foster family in regional New South Wales. She has never seen documentation that explains why she was taken from her mother as a two-year-old. That was just one of many concerns she had about the way she’d been treated by the Departments of Community Services (DOCS) and Family and Community Services (FACS), arising from many years of dealing with them.
Anna, who has an intellectual disability, was sexually assaulted both at primary school and high school by another student, Bryan, who was a little younger than her.
When she was eight, he dragged her under the stairs at school one day and tried to put his penis inside her. ‘He had his pants pulled down. I can’t remember if he took my underpants off or what happened after that, but I know that my brothers and sisters who attended the school told my foster mum that Bryan had been having sex with me under the stairs.’
Other assaults followed, at school and on the school bus that both Anna and Bryan took to get home in the afternoons. One time on the bus he tried to put his penis into her mouth, and the mother of another child intervened. She reported what she’d seen to the school principal.
Anna had already reported Bryan to the principal after the first incident. He’d called her foster mother in to the school to talk about it. ‘I don’t believe the principal spoke to Bryan’, Anna told the Commissioner, in a statement read out by her support person.
After a second incident at the school, the principal called the police, who spoke to Anna. Again, no follow-up action was taken. After the episode on the bus, the police were called again. This time the assault was also referred to Anna’s caseworker at DOCS.
‘I told her what was happening to me at school, and that Bryan was touching me and stuff. I also told her what had been happening on the school bus, but she didn’t believe me.’ As a result, Anna said, DOCS didn’t take any action. Meanwhile, Bryan’s parents were told about the abuse but insisted it couldn’t have happened. ‘His mum just said, “Oh, my son wouldn’t have done that”’, Anna recalled.
‘I feel the principal believed me, but nothing really changed to keep me safe’, she said.
Anna finished her primary school years at a different school, but at her government high school she found herself in the same place as Bryan once again. Once again, he molested her.
Anna was a student in the special education unit at high school, and that meant she spent a lot of time unsupervised. Bryan would find her alone in the classroom and make her go with him to the school oval.
‘He would try to pull my underwear down and pull my skirt off and everything else. He would say things like you should suck my penis … I said “No, I’m not doing that”. When he tried to shove his penis in my mouth I got up and ran off.’
Anna reported Bryan to a teacher, who told the principal. Various steps were taken: a time-out room was created where Anna could sit away from Bryan, she was taken to a sexual health clinic for advice and meetings with a counsellor were organised. But as far as she knows the police weren’t told. There was no action taken against Bryan.
Looking back, Anna feels the school failed in its duty to provide a safe place for her. ‘I was frightened having to go back there with Bryan still at school.’
Both schools, and DOCS, could have done much more, she believes.
She felt Bryan should have been suspended. At the very least, he should have been closely supervised. He should have had compulsory counselling. He and his parents should have been spoken to by police, and DOCS. ‘Because there were no consequences for Bryan, he probably felt he could get away with anything.’
Anna has not received an acknowledgement or an apology for the abuse she suffered from either of the two schools.
‘I don’t think the schools had my best interests at heart, or were prepared to keep me safe’, she said. ‘I’d like a formal written apology from both schools.’
Anna became pregnant in her final year of school, and left before finishing. That baby, and a second one, have been taken by the FACS and placed into care. Anna’s older child is being looked after by Anna’s birth mother, an arrangement Anna finds baffling, given that her mother was judged unfit to raise her. ‘How have DOCS and FACS established that she is well enough to be the carer of my child?’ Anna asked.
At the moment she’s trying to access all her records, in the hope they will contain answers to that and her many other questions. In her daily life she has support from her foster mother and a range of groups. ‘But DOCS and FACS have never allowed me to have an advocate with me at meetings and this has put me at a huge disadvantage, due to my age, my Aboriginality and my disability. I also think this is why my history with DOCS and FACS has been so traumatising, because it has allowed abuse of me to carry on’, Anna said.
‘My whole life now is at the mercy of other people.’