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Charlene Louise's story

When in later life Charlene found her orphanage and welfare files she saw it noted that there were ‘suspicions’ about a foster family’s son sexually abusing her, ‘but then there’s nothing of any follow up’, and she was sent back to the family several times.

Charlene has no memories of staying with that foster family, but at 12 she was sent from the orphanage in regional Victoria for ‘home leave’ with her parents. She barely knew them as she’d been made a ward of the state as a toddler in the early 1960s, and had lived in a babies’ home and orphanage ever since. But while she was with her birth family, her mother came to an arrangement with a friend, Mrs Andreiko, and sent Charlene and her brother to live with that family.

During the time Charlene was with the Andreikos she was repeatedly raped by one of the sons, who also ‘shared’ her with his friends.

The welfare department knew of the placement and Mrs Andreiko, who’d separated from her husband, was supported financially through government payments for Charlene and her brother. Despite this, welfare records document the children as ‘missing’ for two years, and there was no apparent enquiry into their whereabouts. ‘They mustn’t have looked too hard’, Charlene said.

When she was 15, Charlene was invited one day to go to a party with the Andreikos’ son and his girlfriend. In all her years living with the family, she’d only ever been permitted to go between school and the house.

‘There was a bungalow with four blokes waiting’, Charlene said. ‘I don’t remember the actual rape, I must have been knocked out, but you could see the bruises on my neck were fingerprints and when they’d finished I guess, when I went back to Andreikos, I told her can she call the police, told her what happened and she said, “You’re a slut and deserved it”, and wouldn’t even call the police. But she knew. She had to have known what her son was doing.’

On another occasion, the son took Charlene to another house and she ‘couldn’t even count’ the number of men who raped her.

At 15, Charlene was told by Mrs Andreiko she had to leave school and find a job. This she did, and gave over her wages each payday. Physical abuse by Mrs Andreiko had started from the time Charlene arrived, and it continued until she left at 18. Her brother hadn’t lasted long in the house, before being ‘kicked out’.

‘I thought he ran away and left me there’, Charlene said. ‘I hated him for that. Hated him for years for that, for not taking me.’

In the early 1970s when she was 17, Charlene had a child as a result of the rapes. One day she went to the welfare department and told them about the physical and sexual abuse she’d experienced over many years.

‘[I] told them what was happening. They said, “Well no one else wants you, you’ve got to go back”. And they drove me back, knowing what I was copping and that I would still get it.’

Eventually Charlene walked out on the Andreiko family. She took her son with her, but had to battle Mrs Andreiko who drove off with him in her car and had to be forcibly returned by police.

At one stage a social worker recommended that Charlene place her son in care for three weeks. She did so, but ‘three weeks turned into six years’ as she battled to get him back. While he was in care, he was sexually assaulted by a foster parent.

‘As you can guess, I grew up pretty angry’, Charlene said. ‘And I married a bikie. He was safe and he was my hero. He was my first love you know; he was everything.’

After some years together they separated and Charlene twice remarried. Of her last marriage she said, ‘it suited me down to the ground’. Her husband travelled for work and was only home on weekends, ‘and that was good’.

They’d been granted custody of her husband’s grandchildren but when the marriage ended he told Charlene ‘to put the kids in a home’.

Charlene refused and tried to manage on her own, but her now ex-husband continually threatened violence. In each of her relationships with men, Charlene ‘got bashed all right through’.

As a way of keeping the children out of state care, Charlene requested welfare staff find a family for them to live with for a few weeks while she found another place. However, despite Charlene having been granted sole custody, staff put the children back in their home of origin where their mother was living with a man who’d been convicted of child sexual abuse.

‘Child protection is not child protection’ Charlene said. ‘It never was. It wasn’t with me. It wasn’t, like I said with my son … They didn’t protect me, they didn’t protect him, and they haven’t protected these four grandkids. So they haven’t changed. But they need to stop calling themselves child protection or start doing it. But I don’t think it will ever – they haven’t changed in all this time.’

Charlene said she’d never had counselling and wasn’t interested in doing so. ‘I don’t like people. I don’t trust people. I love my cat … He’s very naughty. My vet said he’s very spoilt. You don’t own them, they own you. That suits me.’

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