‘I have tried to be strong all of my life, and have had the support of my family and my partner. However, it is hard to hold the story of my early childhood sexual abuse inside ... The abuse will always be there.’
Anthea spoke with the Royal Commission, and also gave a written statement, about her experiences in foster care. At nine she was taken from her parents and made a state ward.
It was the late 1960s and she was first sent to a receiving home in suburban Perth. She cannot recall her time there in great detail, but remembers ‘we were stripped naked, put in cold showers, and made to go to bed naked’.
After six months Anthea was sent to a foster placement with the Bulmer family. She was ‘felt up’ on visits to Mr Bulmer’s relatives, and in their home too – ‘it was a horrible shock to get touched up’.
‘We had a lot of visitors to the house, and an older white man would come and touch me inappropriately on the bottom and breasts. This happened many times. I complained about my care at the Bulmers, and I was moved.’
Next Anthea was sent a Catholic-run Aboriginal mission in Western Australia’s wheatbelt. The nuns would beat the children, and the young boys would watch the girls when they showered.
Anthea was sexually abused by a priest working at the mission. ‘I was there for about two years. One of the priests would drink, and then touch me. This went on a few times, and then he was removed.’
She does not remember anyone from Native Welfare ever asking about her wellbeing or safety in the various places she lived. ‘No-one checked on me, they just moved me around to places.’
Still a ward, Anthea then went to live with her older sister, who had been sent to a different mission as a child. She never told her sister about the sexual abuse, but disclosed to her mother when she was around 15.
After this ‘I sort of held it inside me for a long time’. She did not speak to anyone about it until she engaged with a support service recently. Her children don’t know about it, and the shame she felt prevented her from telling her long-term partner and ‘best friend’ before he passed away.
During her time in care, Anthea’s mother had written to her, but she did not receive these letters until years after her mother had died. Many years later, ‘this lady came up to me and gave me a letter from my mother, it was all photocopied’.
Anthea received her full file from Native Welfare, and ‘it was sad’. It was hard for her to read the case notes that had been made about her personally as ‘they wrote these little things about me’.
A few years ago Anthea was the victim of a violent attack. She is now unable to work, and is medicated for depression. She has experienced periods of housing instability but has recently been allocated community housing.
Anthea did not find out about WA Redress until it was too late to apply. She is now aware she may have other options for compensation, and has information on how to get free legal advice about these matters. She does not think she would want to report the abuse to police. ‘I wouldn’t know their names, whatever, it’s all gone now.’
Thinking about ways that kids might be protected from sexual abuse today, Anthea suggested that children in foster care could be given the number of a dedicated phone helpline, ‘someone they can talk to’ if they need to report abuse or other problems with their placement.
‘There’s a lot of abuse that happens ... It will always be there you know. Even though you try to change it, you can’t change people.’