Anouk was an infant when her family moved to Victoria from Europe in the late 1950s. In addition to having agoraphobia and bi-polar disorder, her mother could not speak English, rendering her largely dependent on her children. Although her parents remained together, their home life was dysfunctional.
At 12 years old, Anouk was with a group of friends at the shops when she and some of the other girls each stole a vinyl record. The group were caught and had to appear in court. Because Anouk had previously run away from home, she was charged with being ‘exposed to moral danger’ and made a ward of the state. None of her friends received such a sentence.
Anouk was removed from her parents and remanded to a training facility for adolescent girls. While being ‘processed’, she was subjected to a strip search and shower, which was frightening and humiliating.
‘When you first go there they make us strip as soon as we got there. And then they de-loused us with whatever it was and then put us in the shower. And if you wouldn’t take your clothes off they’d call Mr Potts down, the night watchman, and his Alsatian dog. And the dog would growl at you.’
Anouk was then subjected to a forced internal examination. She was never told by staff why this was being carried out, however other girls at the facility informed her the purpose was to detect venereal disease. Anouk was not given the opportunity to explain that she was not yet sexually active and the examination was unnecessary.
‘The worst, the very worst, was going to the VD clinic … It was horrible.’
Although there were some kind people at the facility, the majority of staff were cruel. ‘Some of the workers just stunk of alcohol in there. Cigarettes and alcohol, that’s how they stunk.’ Anouk was placed in solitary confinement in a very small room containing a potty and nothing else for periods of time, usually for very small misdemeanours. ‘I remember it was nearly Christmas and they put out lollies … and they said “Don’t touch ‘em”. But we did. Got locked up for two days.’
In addition to the strip search and invasive vaginal examination, another inmate at the facility attempted to molest Anouk, which she found frightening. ‘And this girl, and I still remember her name, she tried to kiss me. Well, that upset me big time. She didn’t do it again, but you know, I didn’t wanna be in that room with her. It traumatised me real bad.’
After 18 months Anouk was given day release to return to her mother. But things went wrong very quickly.
‘I finally got out and the very next day the police came to my mum’s house because a friend of mine had run away from home and they reckoned that I knew where she was. But I’d only just got out … Then they took me back to [the facility] but the police were bashing me. She kept hitting and hitting me and saying I knew. “You know where this girl is”. And when I got to [the facility] they all knew because I had bruises and everything … They didn’t even do anything.’
At the age of 15, Anouk was released from the facility. ‘I think I was worse when I got out. I tried to kill myself … I took a packet of Mum’s pills and that and I ended up in hospital. And then I think while I was in hospital they found out I was pregnant.’
Anouk had become pregnant to her first boyfriend and later gave birth to a daughter. Her mother supported her in keeping the child, but it was a challenging period for both of them.
At 17 Anouk married and later had more children. Despite the lack of adequate education, she maintained a strong work ethic and took on jobs in the service industry, refusing to be dependent on welfare payments. ‘I don’t know how to work computers or nothing. But I’ve done a lot of courses and I’ve done [well] … I’ve always worked … I don’t have sickies ever.’
As an adult, Anouk is unable to be in small rooms for any amount of time. ‘I do hate small rooms, I really do. My bedroom’s huge. Even when we go away we’re staying in a cabin, I couldn’t stand it. I just hate being in little rooms.’ She has also been unable to submit to any internal medical examinations, even with a trusted physician. ‘To this day I cannot, I hate it.’
Recently Anouk was required to undergo a citizenship test, having been born overseas. Although she is literate, the computer-based test was extremely difficult for her. ‘I never even know half the stuff they’re asking ‘cause I never went to school.’ She was also required to provide a birth certificate and other documents she has never held. As a former state ward, Anouk believes her records should be sufficient to establish her identity.
In recent years Anouk obtained her welfare records only to find them hurtful to read. ‘I was pretty emotional reading that … Sometimes I wish I didn’t get ‘em ‘cause you think “Oh my God, is that me?” You know, it wasn’t good.’
Anouk has never reported the abuse to the police nor sought compensation. While counselling is provided at her place of work, she has never received therapy relating to her time in the institution. ‘Where I work we have counsellors … and I have spoke a little bit about things … I told ‘em I was in a girl’s home … I don’t really like talking about it.’
Anouk receives support from a close friend whom she met in the facility when she was young. She credits her strong work history and her family for giving her the strength to carry on with life. ‘I’ve never had drugs ever. I don’t drink at all … My daughter, she kept me going. And my husband. I always tried to better myself.’