Connie was first sexually abused at 10 years of age by her teenage brother Andrew. ‘I’d be left home for him to babysit me ... It wasn’t actual sexual intercourse but it was still he made me do things that later on I found out was totally wrong.’
Her older sister’s husband abused her too. ‘He quite often would come up to me and ask me to show my breasts to him, or grab me on the bottom, or in the front.’
Connie tried to tell her parents about this abuse. ‘I tried to explain it to my mum and dad and they didn’t believe me at all, said I was just trying to work up stories for attention and stuff like that.’
Labelled as an attention-seeker, ‘no matter what I said, didn’t matter. And they knew that. So the more that I tried to let on, the more that my parents didn’t believe me’.
She started running away from home ‘because no one would listen to me’, heading to ‘anyone I could be safe with, whether it be a friend or a lady down the road or my nan or just somewhere where I could feel safe’.
There was nowhere she ever felt really safe though. ‘It’s really hard to say this, but no. Because no one believed in me, no one believed me. Nan would hide me from the beltings I would get off Dad, but that would be it. She would say I wasn’t there, because Dad would have whatever in his hand. Many a time I got a jug cord or whatever.’
Eventually her parents ‘went into welfare and said that they couldn’t control me and I was uncontrollable ... The label stuck well and truly. And the rollercoaster starts’.
Connie was placed under an interim order and sent to a receiving home in the 1970s when she was about 13 years old. ‘You weren’t welcomed with open arms and treated properly. And when you did get there and once they knew your history ... They had free range too ... Just grabbed and stuff [by male staff], and verbally abused.’ She was sent to a second facility, but ran away again. ‘My biggest coping mechanism was running away.’
After this she went to court and was made a Tasmanian state ward. ‘My dad asked them to, my dad begged them to. He would go quite often to welfare and say “what are you going to do with her?”’
Throughout these engagements with child protection Connie tried to tell them what had happened to her at home. ‘I did. When I was at home ... The whole time. But it was never put down [on file], because my mum and dad always said that I made stories up ... I just said I was abused at home and look, honestly you get to the point ... your mechanism to cope is you start lying or you don’t tell them things or you run away. You’ve got nowhere to turn, because back then kids were seen and not heard.’
Connie was placed in a girls’ training centre, staying there for over a year and doing school by correspondence. ‘It had big fences and gates around, and you were locked in a compound.’ She was sexually abused in this centre too.
‘It starts off with silly things. When you first go in there you’re stripped naked, you’re stripped absolutely naked. They touch you all over, they touch you in places where my mum never touched me, okay. So that was sort of how it starts off.’
The staff physically punished the girls. ‘When they hit you they would also grab you in places they shouldn’t have grabbed you.’
Connie pretended to be pregnant to try and curtail the sexual abuse. ‘They wanted to put things inside me. I was a child. I didn’t know what they were, I didn’t want all that. So I used to say things.’
Because Connie tried to run away from this centre too, she was sometimes locked in a ‘security unit’ with a nightwatchman watching over her. ‘He had a key to get into us.’ This man sexually abused her and many other girls there. ‘Just depended. Sometimes you were the only person out in those security units. There was nobody else.’
Her peers sexually abused her as well. ‘It wasn’t just staff members. There was tougher girls in the home that would do it to you too.’
After her experience telling her parents about the abuse by her brother, Connie was loath to report the other abuses. Although she had been assigned a welfare officer she did not trust her.
Connie left the centre and went back to live with her family, but this arrangement did not work well. She went to stay with neighbours who protected her from her dad’s beatings in return for sexual favours. ‘That was it, they had their way.’ She became pregnant in her teens and soon married a man ‘just so I had somewhere to live ... He used to belt me something bad’. Then her husband started hurting the baby too, so she sent the child to her mother. Her mum rang welfare and had him removed from Connie, raising him for a while herself.
As an adult Connie had more children, and was married several times, including to a man who viciously assaulted her. She was able to report him to police and he was charged and convicted for this abuse. Her relationships with her children remain fractured.
After seeing a public campaign for the Tasmanian redress scheme Connie made an application regarding the abuse she experienced in care. However, two anonymous callers contacted the person assessing the claims and cast doubts on her account, which led to further investigations being conducted by the department. This was particularly hard for her given her history of people not believing her when she reported being abused. In the end she received close to the top payment available.
Over the past five decades Connie has lived with anxiety and depression, and finds it hard to leave the house. She experiences panic attacks daily. ‘You learn to cope with them, you just deal with them. You know when one’s coming on or whatever.’
She now takes medication to manage her mental health and pain, but has not found counselling helpful. ‘I can’t do it, it doesn’t do anything for me. It doesn’t relieve anything, it doesn’t make me feel any better.’