Carmen Jo's story

Carmen was six years old and living with her grandmother in Queensland when she was declared a ward of the state. She had grown up with an alcoholic father who had molested her from as far back as she could remember.

Carmen tried to tell her grandmother about the abuse by her father. ‘I got hit across the face with a tea towel. I was told “Don’t talk about your father like that”. That was the way it was dealt with at home, so I never mentioned it. I learnt very young to keep secrets.’

In the 1960s when she was in primary school, Carmen and a schoolfriend were sexually abused by a man who would give them a small sum of money after each incident. Carmen was also sexually abused by an ambulance officer after she broke her ankle at school. Carmen does not remember either of the men’s names.

‘I knew what was happening in my home was wrong. I remember I didn’t want to go to school. I felt like my head was going to explode … I didn’t want to go home either.’

Carmen would skip classes and sit on the swings in front of the police station. She said that it was ‘her cry for help’ but she was charged by the police as an ‘uncontrollable child’. From when she was six, she was moved from institution to institution across Queensland and New South Wales. She spent most of her time in care at a Catholic college.

‘When I first went to the home, they did an IQ test on me and I had a very low IQ. That’s what they told me. And I would have to go to the laundry and not go to school. I don’t think I have a low IQ at all, but being told that all my life, I always thought I was stupid. ’

The college was a horrible place for Carmen. Because she worked in the laundry and was isolated from the rest of the students, she felt stupid and alone. She often ran away but was always brought back.

Carmen thought Mother Lucinda was sympathetic and so confided in her about what happened with her father. But there was no compassion on offer. Mother Lucinda told Carmen not to lie and forced her to stand in the corner of the room as punishment.

‘Nobody was asking me what was going on, or what’s happening. There was no therapy, there was no counselling, no nothing. Even if I had told them, which I did with the nun, I got put in the corner and girls spat on me walking past me.’

At age 15 Carmen was sent to live with the Brown family where she was raped by James Brown, her foster carer who was also a police officer. He threatened to send her back to the college if she told anyone.

Still, Carmen wrote to Mother Lucinda telling her of the rape. The nun wrote back and accused Carmen of lying once more.

When Carmen turned 18 she was able to move to Sydney and ‘become a part of society’. She worked a stable job, met a man and had children. But the memories ‘came flooding back’.

Carmen said that the sexual abuse has destroyed her identity, and it’s only in recent years that she’s felt that her story has been heard and understood. She has a good psychologist, who has helped her work with her issues. She also has a psychiatrist that she does not trust.

Carmen experiences auditory hallucinations and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which has had consequences for her family. She believes that all of her children have suffered as a result of her mental illness. Her daughter Ella was also placed in several homes and has also contacted the Royal Commission with her experience of abuse, which was re-traumatising for Carmen.

As there was no name recorded for the ambulance officer, no action was taken against him. When she reported the rape perpetrated by James Brown to Task Force Argos she learned that Brown had died. Carmen was awarded a payment through the Queensland Redress Scheme but ‘it didn’t change anything’.

Carmen had previously been employed in mental health services and this helped her to cope with her issues – being able to relate to people that had been in similar situations was rewarding. Carmen is currently studying and wants to create her own support group.

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