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Brenda Leah's story

As soon as Brenda turned 16 she got on the train to Sydney. From there followed drugs, alcohol and prostitution. But she had to get out. She was running away from a childhood of abuse.

Brenda’s first memories were fighting and violence in the home - and police visits. At the age of five her mother put her and her brother into care at a Protestant-run children’s home. The two siblings were immediately separated into different sections and Brenda rarely saw him. ‘Compared to … how we were living it was just, yeah, acceptable. You know, they weren’t nice. They weren’t caring. They weren’t loving but at least you were fed and you had a bed.’

On weekends, Brenda would stay with different couples or families. She was told by her carers that this was a privilege and to do what she was told when she was with them.

Brenda was sexually abused by several of the families she stayed with. ‘The very first one I was sent to, it was a husband and a wife … I was told not to touch anything, just sort of left to my own devices. Pretty much sitting outside all day, the first day. And then I was fed, given a bath and put to bed. And then the father come to say hello later on that night ... It was the full … He tried everything …

‘I was told to shut up’, Brenda said. ‘Pretty much every single person that abused me sexually as a child, you’re told to not tell anyone. And if you tell anyone, it’s your fault.’

She didn’t go back to that family but later stayed with another family. She described this as a father and son ‘tag team’ that would abuse her when the mother went out.

The abuse continued - with other families. The ‘best one’ was a man and a woman. They would make Brenda and a boy do things to each other. Then the man would take over and all the while it was photographed by the woman.

Brenda reported the abuse to a staff member at the children’s home. She was told she was a ‘disgusting, lying child’ and had her mouth washed out with soap.

She also told her mother that ‘they were sending me to horrible places’. Again, she was not believed.

After a year or two, Brenda returned to the care of her mother. She was sexually abused by her ‘new daddies’ until her mother settled with a more decent man and the abuse stopped. The violence in the home continued, however. This time, her mother took on the role of aggressor.

When Brenda left home and went to Sydney, life continued to be a struggle. She started having children while still a teenager and was in an unhealthy relationship. However, it was her children that inspired her to get her life together.

‘I broke the cycle. And that’s been the goal. I broke the cycle.’

Brenda is in a long-term, supportive relationship. She says her partner has his demons, too. Her children, some of them now adult, are doing well. She keeps a lid on her trauma. She controls her drinking but self-medicates with marijuana, which she needs in order to sleep. ‘I’m still very destructive, don’t you worry.’

She’s unsure about pursuing compensation as she knows money won’t make it better.

‘I live in my own world. I’m not very social. I’m not real keen on people. I just live in my own paranoid little world and try to put my best foot forward and deal with things the best way I can. My main focus is to bring up healthy, happy, honest, responsible, loyal people.’

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