Corrie's story

‘I recall the incident with the old man happened in my aunty and uncle’s kitchen at the back of our house ... All I remember is that I was sitting on his lap. I recall hearing my cousins playing and while this was happening he was touching me on my privates.’

After Corrie’s parents split up, she lived with her father’s family on a government-controlled Aboriginal mission in rural Queensland. One of the elders there was related to her uncle, and would come to the house. It was the early 1960s, and Corrie was around four years old, when this man sexually abused her.

He pretended to be playing with Corrie, so the other kids wouldn’t know what he was doing. ‘I was trying to get off his lap and I remember he would squeeze my arm so tight it would hurt, he was not going to let me go.’

Corrie never told her aunty or uncle what the man had done to her. ‘Children were seen and not heard, but I did not even really think about telling anyone. After it happened, bang I just blocked it out.’

She does not think much would have happened if she had told anyway. ‘A little girl saying something about an elder – would I have been believed?’

When Corrie was an adolescent her stepmother gave her and her sister ‘the talk’ about sex, explaining ‘how not to let someone touch you on your own privates’. Afterwards, Corrie told her: ‘Mum, this happened to me’, and described the man who had abused her.

‘I was now remembering what he had done and that he had done something wrong. Today we now try to give our young people “the talk” early.’

Her stepmother was horrified, and upset she had not disclosed this abuse before. Corrie asked her not to tell her father, ‘because I absolutely idolised my dad, and I didn’t want him blaming himself’.

Corrie’s stepmother passed away, and her father married again. One time, when Corrie was sitting with her sisters and new stepmother, she noticed one of her sisters was upset, and ‘kept crying over anything we were talking about. I just turned to my sister and asked her had she been abused and she knew what I meant’.

Her new stepmother asked how she guessed this, and she replied, ‘I know how my sister feels because I have been abused too’. Again she asked the abuse not be disclosed to her father, but he somehow found out.

‘I remember my dad saying to me “lucky he is dead or I would kill him myself”. I never wanted him to know because I did not want him living with the thought of “why did I not protect my children?” Like us all, we want to protect our children but you cannot be with them 24/7.’

Corrie now knows her dad, who grew up on the mission, ‘has apparently gone through the same thing’. Many other people in her family have experienced child sexual abuse too.

‘Now you’re finding out two of your children have been through it, and some of my siblings have been through it.’ Recently, she discovered one of her grandkids was being molested at home, and the child now lives with her.

When Corrie finally told her biological mother what had happened, ‘I said I didn’t blame her, but part of me does. So now I know why my daughter blames me. Because we are supposed to protect our children.’

It is hard for Corrie to know that her own children did not disclose the abuse they experienced to her for many years, although she had taught them to speak up if anyone touched them. ‘I drummed this into my children’s heads since they could walk and talk, but they still kept it from me.’

Speaking to a cousin, she found out that the man who abused her may have molested other kids too. Knowing this made her feel less like she might be in any way to blame for her own abuse. When she was younger, she would wonder ‘What did I do wrong? Was I really naughty? Did I deserve it? You start thinking like that’.

Corrie bottled up her feelings for a long time, and tried to block out memories of what happened to her. She has had some counselling, but did not find it useful. Because of her unhelpful interactions with counsellors, she prefers to access support through an advocacy worker.

‘I will tell you why I don't like to go to a counsellor: because most of them are younger than you, they don't have the lived experience, meaning they don't have the knowledge, and they give you a set time. Once I had a counsellor tell me my time was up when I was becoming very emotional and had just opened up. I also recall going to counselling and each time I had to see someone else.’

While Corrie used to think she was just angry with the man who hurt her, she realises now ‘I’m angry with the system’. She spoke to the Commissioner about how Aboriginal people had been subjected to control by white authorities, and the impact of this disempowerment on culture and community.

‘It is because of the system we did not feel we could open up and say anything. Our people did not have a say in anything and we were always told what to do by the government, by the system.

‘We were told to sit down and shut up and even our adults were told what to do. We were controlled by the system. Maybe they did not listen to us enough and people thought they could get away with it. If they had of allowed us to have more of a say it would not have happened, and it could have been passed down to the children, like we do now with our children, we tell them about sexual abuse ...

‘I believe that we should have had more of a say on our people's lives. Then maybe us children would have spoken up too.’

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