‘Some memories are just so horrific I cannot bring myself to talk about them.’
Until recently, Bryony didn’t know what year she was born. She also didn’t know that she was ‘sold’ to a children’s home as a baby and her birth was never registered.
Bryony was born in the late 1950s. Her mother was a minor at the time, a ward of the state, and living in a children’s home in Queensland. Bryony later learned that her mother was sexually abused by a man who was associated with the children’s home. Her mother signed papers, thinking that her child would be adopted, but Bryony’s father ‘sold’ her to the same children’s home her mother had lived in.
When she was a baby, Bryony was fostered by Kevin and Georgina Sanders, and she went back and forth between their home and the children’s home. The Sanders often starved her and locked her in a cupboard for hours at a time. Bryony was threatened with being ‘cut up for dinner’ and her foster parents beat her regularly.
Whenever the Sanders went away, Bryony was sent back to the children’s home, where she was emotionally abused by staff members. She recalls being forced to stand in front of a mirror naked and say that she was ‘ugly, stupid and dumb’ and she ‘wasn’t worth anything’. Bryony was told daily that she didn’t have a mother.
When she was three, Bryony was fondled roughly by a male staff member at the home. She recalls being thrown to the ground and kicked after he had finished.
‘You have a mentality of being in the home as nothing. A number. You’re not a person, you’re just there. A piece of meat.’
When Bryony was still small, her teenage foster sister, Adriana, fondled her vagina. She said this occurred several times and Adriana threatened to put her in a scalding bath if she told anyone about the abuse. Adriana would also often pinch Bryony’s nipples.
When she was five, Bryony was raped by her foster brother Reece. The abuse left her bleeding and extremely sore. By the time she was seven, Reece was anally raping her. Reece would make her sit in the corner naked and left her in the room after he had finished. By the time she was eight, her foster father, Kevin, was also joining in. The abuse occurred weekly.
On one of her visits back to the children’s home when she was eight, Bryony was tied to a bed and raped by several men. She said she had her back turned and did not know who was raping her.
When Bryony was 10, Adriana married and moved away. She was often sent to Adriana’s home, to help her with cleaning duties and she was raped by Adriana’s husband whenever she visited. He also raped her when he visited the Sanders’s place.
Bryony kept a diary and documented all the abuse she experienced. Her foster mother, Georgina Sanders, discovered the diary and read it. Instead of supporting her, Georgina and Kevin became angry with her and told her she was a ‘stupid and dumb girl’. They physically punished her and threatened to put her in a mental institution. Adriana left her husband after telling her family that Bryony was having a sexual relationship with him.
Bryony was too afraid to report the abuse by the Sanders to the police. The Sanders often threatened to kill her if she did. She told the Commissioner that she developed infections from the abuse and often visited the hospital for treatment. She was disappointed to learn later that her doctor suspected she was being abused but did not document anything or report it to the police.
At school, she was a disruptive and destructive child who often hurt her peers. She was constantly in trouble and found it difficult to concentrate in lessons. When she was 15, she was kicked out of school and never finished her education. Shortly after, she ran away from the Sanders home and lived on the streets for a couple of years before being taken in by another family.
During her teens and into adulthood, Bryony experienced multiple health problems that still affect her today. She suffers from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, nightmares and flashbacks. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has self-harmed in the past. She has also had thoughts of taking her own life.
Bryony has ‘never felt like a person’ and isolates herself from others. She has trouble forming relationships and friendships because she doesn’t trust anyone. She was in an abusive marriage for over two decades and now is estranged from her children.
She has only recently been able to disclose the details of her abuse. She told the Commissioner that she hasn’t reported any of the perpetrators to the police because she believes one of the Sanders’s grandchildren is a police officer. She would like to seek compensation but has had trouble finding her documentation. She has contacted a lawyer to help her find her records.
‘I want to share my story so that it may help others to know they can overcome the kind of life I have had … This process is allowing me to share my story with people who will believe me, not judge me and accept me and understand me. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it is where you are going that matters.’