Bridget Ann's story

‘I would cry on the inside with no expression on my face. I could taste the tears as they slid down my throat. And my chest was so tight and so sore from being so sad and frightened.’

Bridget was taken into care in the early 1960s at the age of three, placed with Edith and Reg Blair in suburban Melbourne. Edith was extremely cruel, constantly telling her she was ‘ugly’, ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’ and ‘worthless’, and that her family didn’t want her.

Bridget spent a lot of time naked, or only partially clothed. Edith would make her ‘lie spread-eagle naked on the floor tied to the bed and she would stand over me with a belt’. After beating her with a dog lead, Edith would put her ‘on display outside the bedroom ... I would put my hand over my breasts and vagina – she would smack my hands away and make me stand like a soldier.’ Sometimes Edith would ‘whip the dog into a frenzy so he would be attacking and biting me’.

To cope, Bridget learned to dissociate. ‘I would space out and leave my body.’ She was often locked outside the house naked after Edith beat her, and was fearful of being seen by others.

Smiling, laughing and playing were all forbidden. Bridget was often denied meals or fed mouldy food, and was forced to work as a ‘domestic slave’ to Edith. ‘I never had a piece of fruit before I started working at 15.’

Edith sent Bridget to school without any underwear, meaning she could not play games with the other kids for fear of her skirt blowing up. She couldn’t concentrate on her schoolwork and failed many subjects. Nobody ever asked why.

Edith ensured the bruises she inflicted would be covered by clothing. Bridget tried to punch herself in the face to get someone to notice and question her about it, but was never able to leave a mark.

When Bridget was 13 she refused to take her clothes off when Edith ordered her to. ‘She picked up the phone and rang welfare and handed me the phone. I tried to speak but with her there I was so scared and intimidated that I was unable to tell them much. However I did say about the floggings that I was being subjected to.’

It ‘took all my strength to say something and the worker said, “It can’t be all that bad”.’ When she got off the phone Edith tried to drown her in the bath. To this day, Bridget is still afraid of bathing.

The welfare worker ‘came out about three days later but did not make any effort to speak to me on my own’. Edith told the worker ‘I was being difficult having just started menstruating.’

Bridget felt, ‘I had no voice ... the welfare workers made no effort to see me alone or give me the opportunity to have a voice’. There was no further investigation. She was not offered any support.

When Bridget was in her teens, Edith would grab her developing breasts, twisting them hard. Reg started telling her she had the body of a model, and making sexual comments. At least twice she woke up to him kneeling by her bed, breathing loudly and touching her breasts and genitals.

Bridget eventually became suicidal. ‘I would look at the cleaning things ... I would want to drink the bleach. I didn’t want to go through the pain.’ At 15, she overdosed on pills, but could not tell the doctor why she had taken them.

She lives with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, ‘psychosomatic illnesses’, short-term memory loss and issues with trust. She isolates herself, and has trouble maintaining relationships. For years, when ‘yucky stuff’ came up she would ‘just push it down into my stomach. But I got to a stage where I knew that I had to express myself ... I just felt like it was a disease, just felt like a cancer, it was eating away at me.’

She had taught herself to read and write, but found she couldn’t put her feelings into words. ‘So I thought well, maybe if I drew a picture ... It was easier for me to draw the picture.’

When she had her daughter and started feeling affection towards her, she sought help from a psychiatrist. ‘I couldn’t understand the feelings that I was getting, because I had no positive feelings in the past ... I hadn’t received any love, hugs or whatever.’

In the late 1990s Bridget started seeing a counsellor, and with her encouragement, reported the abuse to police. This counsellor ‘started putting things into legal terms ... which I found really hard to handle. Because up unto that stage it was just ‘the yucky stuff’. I never even knew about words, about being molested ... Even up until my young adulthood.’

Although the police acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations no charges were laid.

‘The police were more concerned about the health of the foster parents and the impact being interviewed and possibly charged would have on them, rather than accepting that they, particularly the foster mother was monstrous in her treatment of me during my whole childhood.’

Bridget then made a civil claim against Edith and Reg. They did not attend court, citing ill health. She received a small amount of compensation. ‘No justice.’

Next Bridget applied for compensation from the state for neglect. After seven years her lawyer advised her that the department had offered an amount, and she should take it. ‘If I didn't accept it I would be left paying court costs etcetera, and [the lawyer] told me that if I proceeded to court, I would lose and the sheriff would come to my home and take everything.’

Although ‘devastated at the sum’, she ‘felt I had no option but to accept it’. She felt so sick about this process that she could not touch the money for a while.

After the first counsellor, Bridget has not found other therapists understanding of her situation and needs. After a few session she finds herself telling them: ‘I have a feeling that you’re getting more out of these sessions than I am. And they actually admit it. And I said well I’m sorry, I’m not here to educate you.’

When she first enquired about her records she was told they had been burned, but this wasn’t the case. Recently she received them and found out that her father had written begging for custody of her when she was very young. Realising how different her life would have been had she lived with him was so devastating that for a period of time, she stopped speaking.

She finally tracked her father down and visited him a few times before he passed away. ‘I received a letter from the premier apologising that the state had kept me away from my father, but I did not receive an apology about the abuse. In fact, the state declared they were not responsible for the abuse.’

Overall, Bridget is disillusioned and dissatisfied with the police and compensation processes. ‘The authorities designed to support and help victims did nothing but cause me further trauma and exacerbate my lack of trust in authorities or that there is any justice to be had in relation to my abuse.’

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