Breanna’s father left her mother in the mid-1970s, when Breanna was three years old. Her first stepfather was violent towards both Breanna and her mother, but when her mother married for a third time, ‘she went from being too scared to put anything wrong in the house, to being the laziest one I’ve ever met, that didn’t get off her arse at all, and really expected me to do everything. I became like a slave to her’.
Breanna started running away from home when she was about six years old because she was being molested by her stepfather’s friends. When Breanna was 13, and still frequently running away from home, her mother had her placed in a government-run children’s home in Melbourne, and she was made a ward of the state.
‘It was a little bit scary but I think because there’s all other kids there it doesn’t feel so bad. But then, I remember them saying to me that they wanted to take my little sisters as well and … I didn’t like that … I didn’t want to see my sisters there … So I kind of shut my mouth about everything that was going on.’
Breanna left the children’s home after a few months, and began to live on the streets. One day she ran into an employee from the home, who invited her to come and stay at his place. While she was there his friend, who also worked at the home, took photographs of Breanna, ‘in a woolly jumper and underwear and stuff like that … maybe soft porn … and [it] made me not want to go back there and stay there’.
When she was still 13, Breanna was sent to a girls’ hostel outside of Melbourne, which she described as a locked facility. There, she met another girl who was working on the streets as a prostitute. Breanna began to join her. She assumes the staff knew what they were doing, ‘because we had money and stuff and we were going and coming home drunk and all stuff like that’. The staff ‘just got upset that we had dyed our hair … cut and dyed our hair … that was what I got in the most trouble for’.
No one spoke to the two girls about what was going on, but Breanna recalled that ‘we got grounded at one stage for a couple of weeks. And I do remember actually, one of the younger staff members talking to … my friend about it and to have taken her aside, and was upset with her for taking me down there’.
After living at the hostel for about six months, Breanna moved in with a 26-year-old man. She was 14 at the time. The welfare department knew, but merely released Breanna from her state wardship. While she was living with this man, she was raped by several of his friends but didn’t report it to the police because she was too scared. Breanna told the Commissioner that she was ‘pretty much’ drunk for a couple of years.
At 15 and 16, Breanna travelled to different states with her boyfriend and worked as an escort. At one stage, she supporting him and his friends.
When she returned to Melbourne, Breanna ran into someone she knew from her prostitute days, and began using heroin.
‘By the time I got to when I was 26 and I was charged with this murder … I think I had a psychosis going on when I was charged for this … when I killed this man … I was right out of control and I think it made it easier for me to make that decision to go ahead and do it, because I thought, my life’s gotta stop … down this path … end up in jail … it’ll stop me doing this.’
Breanna had very little education. When she was living in the children’s home, she only remembers attending school twice. Her lack of education had ‘obviously made it hard to get jobs and stuff, really hard’, but Breanna completed her Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) while serving her prison sentence. Getting her VCE gave her ‘a bit more confidence to know that I’m teachable. I can get a new trade.’
Breanna told the Commissioner that it would be helpful if children like her were encouraged to stay at school, to keep them off the streets. She also believes that it would have helped her to have someone to talk to, ‘someone who’d been in my situation maybe, and not so much someone from a textbook background. Someone I could really relate to, someone with the tattoos and missing teeth and stuff and I could go, “Ooh, shit, I don’t want to be like that” … maybe not that bad.’
Breanna’s experience as a ward of the state has made her ‘not very family orientated. It made me not trust the government very much with … kids … The fact that my life’s ruined pretty much … Maybe I had to be taken out of home’. Although she realises it was probably best for her to be removed from her home situation, Breanna feels that she should have had more help from teachers, case workers, and staff at the institutions while she was a child in care.