Bea's story

Bea grew up in Brisbane and lived for her first nine years with her father and stepmother. After her stepmother died, Bea continued to be looked after by her father who ‘was nice’, but ‘an alcoholic’. His friends used to hang around the house and get drunk and violent and over a period of years Bea was exposed to a lot of abuse. Between the ages of five and nine, she’d also been sexually abused by her step-grandfather.

In the early 1980s, Bea ran away and while living on the streets she was picked up by police and placed in a group home run by a not-for-profit organisation. At 13, she was the youngest person in the home and though she’d been made a ward of the state and wasn’t going to school, education authorities didn’t make inquiries about what had happened to her. She was assigned a social worker but the only contact they had was by telephone and Bea was never asked why she’d left her father’s home.

Every morning, Bea and other residents were forced to vacate the group home. They usually went to Fortitude Valley, an area known for its high itinerant population and the illicit drug and paid sex worker activity.

‘They locked us out every day’, Bea said. ‘There was breakfast and then they would lock us out and we’d hang around in the city, in the Valley all day, and come back at - I can’t remember if it was five or six, but at dinner time. We’d have dinner. We could have a shower, sleep there. Morning you’re locked out again. So I wasn’t able to go to school. We weren’t given any food for lunchtime or anything, so you went all day without any water or any food, and just had to hang around.’

Those from the group home stayed together in the Valley but were vulnerable to ‘sick people’ harassing them. Some boys and girls exchanged money for sex but Bea refused offers to do the same.

One day she was in a park near the Valley when a man who was visiting Brisbane from a cargo ship sexually assaulted her. The man had been trying to get Bea and her friend to accompany him back to the ship, telling them they’d have a better life overseas. Though her friend was keen, Bea said she ‘had those protective shields on knowing that men can do horrible things’, and because she refused her friend wouldn’t go either.

Through her teenage years, Bea made several attempts at finishing school while working to support herself. She finally succeeded and with encouragement from a teacher went on to university.

‘I didn’t know anyone who went to university’, she said. ‘I thought university was for rich people who were really super, super, super smart - genius people. I didn’t know university was for anyone like me. No one I knew went to university, in fact I was the only one in my family who went to Year 10.’

Bea subsequently attained post-graduate qualifications and worked with children in schools and community settings. She found the work rewarding but was frustrated that services for children at risk were inadequately resourced to respond to complex issues.

‘The only thing that’s changed is that they speak to the kids with more respect and they won’t physically you know, manhandle them, but that’s about it. In terms of looking after them – you’re in high school, you’re not getting looked after.’

At the time of the Queensland Forde Inquiry, Bea made application for redress but wasn’t able to provide documentation about her time in the group home because the organisation hadn’t kept records. She managed to get a letter from another agency saying they’d picked her up from the home, and she submitted this with her application.

When she later rang to seek progress on the matter, she was told the redress scheme had closed and there was no record of her application. The experience made her feel ‘violated and angry and re-traumatised for no reason’, and the woman with whom she spoke showed no understanding or compassion.

As a result of her childhood abuse and neglect, Bea experienced depression as an adult but has tried to ‘apply positive psychology’ to her everyday life. ‘I try not to dwell on it and I try not to allow it to have a massive impact.’ She said as she got older she got better at ‘dealing with trauma’.

‘I still take medication every day to be able to function. I got to the point where I tried to come off them but I can’t, so I’ve had to get to the point to say, well I guess it’s like if I had diabetes and that’s not my fault. This is not my fault. I have to just take it even though I don’t like it.

‘When I take it, I function pretty well which is good because the people who lived in the home that I lived in, most of those people find it very difficult to function and go to work every single day, and to be able to have a decent life.

‘So you know in a way I’m lucky compared to others. I’m not a drug addict. I know about the choices that I’ve made but also some of us are genetically more resilient than other people as well so you can’t easily say, “Well they should be able to do it too”, because it’s not the case – everyone’s experiences are a little bit different and everybody’s genetic makeup is different, so how each person copes is very different and can’t be compared I don’t think.’

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