In the 1980s Bree’s parents were the live-in supervisors of an Anglican children’s home, with the family first moving in there when she was five. Bree came to think of her mum and dad as the other kids’ ‘foster parents’, and the kids as her ‘foster siblings’.
One time when Bree was eight her parents were away and she was left at the home with another carer. Simon, one of her older ‘foster brothers’ who was in his mid-teens, sexually assaulted her, including digital penetration.
Bree would wake up in her room with Simon’s hand over her mouth, and him abusing her. This happened several more times over the next few months, even after her parents returned.
Simon was physically forceful and terrified her. Bree said, ‘I was instructed to keep quiet, and I was also told not to say anything about it afterwards’.
Bree told the Commissioner that Simon was not the only ‘foster brother’ to abuse her, and some of the other boys would kiss her and touch her. ‘I just felt like I was dirty and wrong.’
Somehow Bree’s mother heard about what Simon was doing, and asked Bree what had happened. Bree disclosed the abuse, and her mother told the board of management who was responsible for the home. Their advice was to put a lock on Bree’s door. ‘I was locked in at night ... I think I felt a little bit like I was being punished.’
Simon remained ‘free to roam the house’ as he wished. He was not asked to leave the home, and stayed there a couple more years, so she had to encounter him at meals and in common areas. This was very difficult for Bree, and she was not offered any counselling or support.
Eventually Simon was sent away after it was discovered he had sexually assaulted another girl outside the home. Bree believes that if the incidents of abuse against her had been handled properly, the abuse of the other girl might have been prevented.
Bree is aware that Simon himself was abused as a child before he came into care. She is unsure whether to report him to police now, and is not interested in taking any civil action.
It has been hard for Bree’s mother to know that in her attempts to help disadvantaged children, her own children were put in danger. Bree recommended better education for foster parents to help them understand potential risks, and instances of abuse by foster children better managed.
‘No child should be put at risk through poor placement of potentially high risk foster children, through poor education programs to prepare potential foster parents, by mismanagement of offences or placing too much burden on the foster parents. Instances of sexual abuse, regardless of the offender, should be reported to the appropriate channels and psychological input should be implemented immediately for both victims and offenders.’
The abuse left Bree with significant mental health issues, including agoraphobia, anxiety, and substance misuse. She spent time in a psychiatric facility after becoming suicidal. ‘I still to this day cannot sleep in the dark. I can’t sleep without the door open so I have an escape. I slept in with my parents up until I was 17 years old.’ She began drinking heavily in her teens to help her sleep.
Bree became pregnant at 17. She kept her child, but struggled psychologically early on. ‘I think I went to the GP after I had my daughter because I was having some really dark thoughts then. And they diagnosed me with post-natal depression and put me on an antidepressant.’ She received some counselling, but did not speak about the abuse then.
She recognises she was in ‘constant fear’ of her child being harmed. ‘She always slept with me growing up. She probably now thinks that’s a bit weird. But I always felt safer with her in my bed.’
Bree can’t quite remember how she first got in touch with a sexual assault counsellor, but thinks maybe her GP arranged this. ‘Probably in my early 20s I started to talk to professionals about it ... The first person I remember that actually said to me “do you know what, you don’t have to tell me everything that happened”, was the first person I wanted to tell. It was because there was no pressure on me to do it. Because otherwise I could say it, but it was a script.’
Over a few months with this counsellor ‘we had some one-on-ones, and then some group session’. At the time, she found this beneficial. ‘It was the first time that I think it had been validated for me that it was something that would have such a huge impact, and continue to (which was annoying, and still annoys me) ... It was sort of an empowering process.’
These days, Bree tries to practise self-care. ‘I’m more committed to what it takes to get through every day, and not over-commit myself. And it’s a work in progress. I am alone. I live alone ... I don’t have a relationship. I don’t foresee myself having one any time soon. It’s pretty lonely.’
Speaking to the Royal Commission has also been an empowering process for Bree, as she told the Commissioner. ‘The fact that you have taken my story and considered it worthy of your time is so important to me.’