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Christina's story

Christina, an Aboriginal woman who grew up in Queensland, has a vivid memory of her mother being thrown down the stairs by her partner. She also remembers her own distress, at the age of three, being unable to prevent her stepfather’s violence. Until Christina was eight years old, this same boyfriend also physically and sexually abused her, often while her mother was at work.

Christina’s mum was a heroin addict who had several sexually and physically violent partners during Christina’s childhood in the 1980s and 1990s. Sometimes Christina went to stay with her grandma because ‘there was too much violence’. Teachers were noticing blood on her homework, Christina said, or bruises on her body. Sometimes her mum forgot to take her to school altogether.

Christina was made a ward of the state when she was eight and spent the next eight years in a series of foster homes, first in regional Queensland and then in Melbourne. But removal from domestic violence was no guarantee of safety. Her first foster parents were ‘wonderful’ but their two sons sexually abused her. They told her she’d be moved on if she complained, and did she really want to get her foster parents in trouble?

Because she liked it there, she kept quiet. She sometimes travelled back and forth between her foster home and her mum’s place, looking after her mother if she’d been bashed by her boyfriend and then returning to foster care.

During Christina’s various placements the welfare department ‘rarely came to see me ... or they changed workers, which made it really difficult to keep up with what was happening’.

In her next foster home in Melbourne, Christina was sexually abused by her foster father. He was very ‘hands on’ with the 12-year-old Christina, groping her and making crude comments. She ran away and lived on the street for a short time before she was found by police and returned to care.

In the same year, Christina was also sexually harassed at a school holiday camp an hour out of Melbourne. One of the workers would get her alone and attempt to kiss and massage her. Other girls at the camp were harassed as well.

In between foster placements Christina returned to her mother’s care. During her mid-teens, when Christina was still a ward of the state, her mother would prostitute her out in order to get drug money.

Christina’s partner Tony is amazed by the lack of scrutiny during her time as a ward of the state. ‘If only DHS [Department of Human Services] … would’ve popped around to have a look they would have noticed’, he told the Commissioner. ‘If they went and interviewed a few teachers, they would have noticed … They could even have a 10-minute visit once a month, they’d notice something … but it just never happened. Years’d go past until it got to the point of explosion in the family.’

Christina continued with school but was sexually harassed and bullied at two different high schools. One popular, outgoing teacher aggressively propositioned her for sex during a school camp. Back at school ‘he’d do stuff in front of the whole class … like pulling my top down or pulling my dress up’.

At her next school, a teacher sexually harassed a lot of the girls. Christina tried to report him but ended up feeling victimised. ‘Every day I got called into a room and just drilled by the vice principal, the principal and him.’

She left school at 15 and her mother, still heavily addicted to drugs, kicked Christina out again. Tony told the Commissioner that it was financially beneficial for Christina’s mum to have her around, but that she’d abandon her as soon as a boyfriend was around.

Christina was still technically under the care of the welfare department and at 16 they put her back into foster care, this time with a friend of her mother’s. But Christina’s foster mother’s boyfriend, who would ‘talk dirty’ to her, became a cause of contention and Christina was accused of trying to steal him.

Christina began drinking heavily and taking drugs with her mother when she was in her late teens.

Things only started to turn around for her when she met Tony in her early 20s. A year later she gave birth to their first child but because of her drug history the baby was removed and placed with Christina’s mother. Her mother was adept at ducking and weaving, Tony said, and easily manipulated the welfare department into giving her custody of their child.

Years down the track, Christina is now drug free. She suffers from anxiety and is on medication for depression but she and Tony have a stable relationship and all their children live with them. She’s determined they’ll have the stability that she didn’t.

Christina was taken out of her mum’s care five or six times over the years, Tony told the Commissioner, but there was no recognition from DHS of the cycle of physical and sexual violence. ‘There’s a smoke alarm in your house in case you get a fire, but there’s no smoke alarm for kids getting bashed or this or that.’

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