At 13, Carlie was feeling the strain of staying with her mother in the house of her dying grandparents so she ran away to a friend’s house. Picked up by the ACT Police, she was taken to a police station, charged with being an ‘uncontrollable child’ and sent to a juvenile detention centre for one week.
While she was in the centre, Carlie was approached by a staff member and told that he had a job for her to do and to follow him.
‘Being a child you did what you were told’, she said. ‘The first time he took me into the linen cupboard which was enough room for a couple of people to stand in, and the first time he put his arms around me and started kissing me with his tongue.
'Now he was an older man of – he would have been in his mid-30s, mid-40s – and he started to touch me up. I actually ran out of the room and ran back to the main area where all the young kids were. And shortly after that he’d do the same thing, and this is where I can’t remember if it was over a period of days or if it was the one afternoon.
‘This occurred I would say on four, probably five occasions. Every time we would get in there he would try and take things a bit further. I was clothed so thank goodness it never got to that stage, but there was a time when he was rubbing his erect penis up against my leg– and a child of that age, I wouldn’t have known it was an erect penis. Touching my breasts, he would put his fingers between my legs and would rub very hard. Every time I would run out of the room and run back.’
Carlie told a boy what the staff member was doing and the boy recommended they go together and tell a female worker. Having recounted the sequence of events to that worker, the male staff member walked in and told Carlie he had a job for her and that she should follow him. The female worker said nothing and watched her go.
The man then took Carlie to the detention centre’s front door, opened it and told her she could leave. Next, he turned around and left her. Carlie said she recalled having heard two other girls describe how they’d been charged with absconding under circumstances similar to the situation in which she now found herself. Instead of leaving, she found a room and hid in it.
Not long afterwards, the staff member returned with the matron and Carlie overheard him reporting that she’d left the premises. She appeared behind them and said, ‘No, here I am’.
Carlie then found herself in the matron’s office under instruction to repeat the story she’d told and to do it in front of the male staff member. The matron initially didn’t believe the story but said she’d conduct an inquiry, at which point the staff member proffered his immediate resignation.
‘She looked pretty horrified when he actually said, “I resign effective of now”,’ Carlie said. ‘But there was no acknowledgement, there was nothing that what I said was true.’
When she returned home, Carlie told her mother what had happened. Her mother said the man was ‘a bastard’ and never spoke of it again.
Carlie told the Commissioner that at the age of 36, she’d been diagnosed with a chronic form of depression and her psychiatrist partly attributed its genesis to the week she’d spent in detention as a teenager.
‘Most of my life I’ve been on a very mild dose of antidepressants which works well’, she said. ‘He actually linked that back to my experience … [and] neurological development of a child at that age.’
Although she considered her abuse ‘mild’, and has worked with others who’d been severely abused, Carlie wished to see ‘something done about this man if he’s still alive’. She planned on trying to access her departmental files and was considering making a report to ACT Police.
‘A big part of me coming to tell my story is to try and make the world a better place for children’, Carlie said. ‘I know from child protection there’s a lot of kids out there with a lot of issues. I don’t actually know what safeguards we can put in place. A lot are in place because society’s moved to that level of believing a child.’
She hoped that there was a cultural shift to a more rehabilitative approach to troubled children, and she would have appreciated support for the family at the time she ran away.
Carlie’s current work brought her into contact with families whose children were removed from their care, and she said they often needed an advocate outside the legal system. Many had poor literacy skills and didn’t understand the system they were part of, nor the documentation that was put in front of them to sign.
She thought child protection workers also needed more support. ‘I think a rotational system where you might be out in the field for nine months, the next six you do policy and then get back into the field.
'I was only there for a year but I remember people saying that 18 months to two years was probably the most you can do in this industry. And some of them were just so burnt out.
'If you do a rotational system of two workers so one’s in the field and the other’s off doing policy then they swap over, [there’s] that continuity for children in care. I think that’s very important for children in care.’