‘My Children’s Services file … describes that I was living in a poorly functioning family unit … I became a ward of the state of Queensland, at [two] … There was no doubt in peoples’ minds that if I was removed from this environment, I would be afforded sufficient care so as not to endanger me further … Sadly, that was not the case.’
Annelise spent about eight years in a number of children’s homes in the 1960s, before she was fostered to relatives. She remained in the care of the state until she was 18.
‘I have vivid memories of being sexually assaulted as a small child by an older boy in [one of the children’s homes]. I believe that the managers of this establishment realised what was happening, and that is why they [eventually] separated the boys from the girls, in separate housing arrangements.’
Separating the girls and the boys meant that Annelise no longer had contact with her brother, ‘my only known relative’. As an adult, Annelise has strained relationships with all of her siblings.
By the time she was 10, Annelise had lived with six ‘completely different pseudo families’. Annelise believes that ‘this also made me more vulnerable to sexual abuse, because no one person was responsible for me. I was passed like a parcel … and had no way of explaining the terror that I was feeling’.
Annelise believes that others thought she was stupid because she was ‘almost mute … unable to speak at various times’. Annelise never reported the abuse she experienced in care because, ‘my experiences as a child set me up to think that sex did not mean anything. I did not have anyone to guide me’.
When Annelise was fostered to relatives, she ‘continued to experience sexual exploitation from family members and neighbourhood boys’.
Annelise recalled that when she was a child she would often get into fights at school. ‘I think it was an extension of the abuse I had been exposed to … To me, it was the unpredictability of being moved to another place of danger, because I never knew where I would be put, and what danger awaited me.’
At 16, Annelise was groomed and sexually abused by a teacher at school. ‘I was … unable to understand that having a sexual relationship instigated by my … teacher was in no way appropriate.’ At the time, Annelise thought the ‘sexual relationship’ was consensual.
After she left school, Annelise ‘spent 10 years in an alcohol-induced cycle of complete madness, all the time supressing the reasons for my self-destructive behaviours. Most people thought I was mad and messed up … My moral compass was way off, and I didn’t really care what happened to me’.
Annelise told the Commissioner, ‘My alcohol addiction was never enjoyable. It was hideous from start to finish … I was the girl at the party that was so drunk people just sneered and made offensive comments …
‘I used alcohol to sleep because I had nightmares and flashbacks … In my early 20s I developed an eating disorder and literally just wanted to disappear into nothingness.’
Annelise never married and has never maintained a long-term relationship. She always believed that she was ‘not worthy to marry or have a normal family life. How could someone like me wear a white dress? How could anyone possibly love someone that had been through what I had been through? I felt deep down in my mind, how dirty and ruined I was at such a young age’.
In her late 20s, Annelise decided that she needed to become sober, and she began therapy. ‘I have learnt in therapy that at these early stages of development my brain was wired to attach to abusive relationships and I acted according to my early childhood experiences as an adolescent and into my adulthood … I had no real ability to set healthy sexual boundaries with others.’
Annelise still suffers from periodic depression, flashbacks and nightmares, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She knows that she will need to continue therapy, because, ‘I have a good life today, and I want to keep having a good life’.
‘Part of telling my story is I know that I’ve not reached the top of the mountain but I can’t stop climbing yet. I also think of all the others who are still climbing and hope we are linked with a rope of endurance that keeps us looking up, and not down.’
Looking back, Annelise doesn’t feel bitter about her life. ‘I feel a sense of gratitude that I have been able to work through the kaleidoscope of issues and come out the other side with a true sense of self …
‘The more that I share my story, the more cathartic it is for me and the more confident I feel about it. So even though it’s been a pretty scary process coming [to the Commission], it just enables me to have a go a bit more.’