Annette was very young when she was sexually abused in her family home, and can’t quite remember who it was that harmed her. ‘I can’t put the face to that person, but I know I was touched down there ... I think I blocked some of it out.’
When she was six, her parents separated and her mother had a breakdown. As a result Annette and her siblings were made wards of the state in the early 1970s, and sent to live in a Perth Salvation Army children’s home. The children lived in cottages – ‘In our cottage, we were the only Aboriginal girls there, and the rest were all white ... There was a few Aboriginal people there, scattered around’.
Two years after Annette started living at the home, she was sexually abused by a boy called Hugh. She isn’t sure if he was her age or a bit older, but as they were both children she wondered if perhaps she was to blame for what happened.
‘That’s what I mean. Would it be my fault, and not just his fault?’ This abuse was a one-off incident, and entailed Hugh luring her into a workman’s tent on the site and molesting her.
Annette told the Commissioner that she and her sisters disliked being in the home, and they were often punished for the smallest things. In this environment she was scared to disclose what Hugh had done to her, and felt too ashamed to tell anyone for more than 40 years.
When Annette was 12, she and her siblings went to live with their mother and stepfather Michael. Although Michael used to grab her breasts, and she believes he wanted to have sex with her, she was rescued by an aunt.
‘I ended up moving out, not by choice. My aunty virtually saved me. I think she knew what was going on. It was just up the road my aunty lived, and I ended up staying with her ... Think Mum and her had a bit of a fall out.’
The repeated sexual abuse by so many different people left Annette feeling that maybe she was particularly a target. ‘It felt like I had a sign on me saying, "Well, come and touch me, come and get me" type of thing.’
Annette was barely literate when she left school at 15. She reconnected with her father, and met some relatives from his side of the family. When she had children of her own, she raised them with help from her aunt and a friend.
The sexual abuse Annette experienced has affected her relationships, and she has experienced thoughts of suicide, shame, and trust issues related to feeling abandoned by her parents.
Recently Annette has started some counselling. She is also seeking advice about applying for compensation, and asking for an apology from the Salvation Army.
‘The people that I want an apology from were the ones in the home, ‘cause really, why blame the government when it wasn’t them? They wasn’t there.’