Dana Maree's story

‘We were best friends, we did everything together. And then that changed when he decided to become my abuser.’

At the age of two, Dana and her younger brother Ben were made wards of the state, and removed from the family home. Her welfare file states this was because of neglect, and that her dad had been sexually abusing her older sisters.

Dana and Ben were placed with foster parents Lillian and Stuart in suburban Sydney. The couple had teenage sons of their own. When Dana was around five, one of the sons took naked photographs of her and another child while Ben was in the room.

From the mid-1990s, when Dana was 13, Ben frequently raped and otherwise sexually abused her.

Dana soon disclosed this abuse to a teacher, who had noticed her exhibiting problematic behaviours and approached her about them. The teacher reported it to the school counsellor. The counsellor contacted her caseworker from the Department of Community Services (DOCS), and the caseworker spoke to her foster parents. A meeting was arranged between Dana, the counsellor, and Lillian and Stuart.

‘I received no support or understanding from any of the adults in the room. Even the school counsellor didn’t say a word. My teacher to whom I reported the abuse was not in the room.

‘I didn’t feel supported or believed. I felt they kept checking to see if I was telling the truth. I remember the DOCS worker saying, if it was happening, “Why would it be your brother? Why wouldn’t it be your foster dad?” I then agreed to what the DOCS worker suggested because it seemed more plausible to them. I thought they would be more likely to believe me if I said it was my foster dad.

‘It ruined my relationship with my foster dad because it was never the same after that … It was awful to put it all on my dad. I felt I had to do that to be believed. I thought if I said it was my dad they would remove me from the situation but they didn’t do anything.’

Despite all of this, no additional supervision or care was provided after this meeting. When caseworkers from DOCS visited the family there was never a chance for Dana to be alone with them. Lillian was always present, and Ben would be in close proximity.

For the next four years Dana attempted to report on numerous occasions, but nobody ever believed her. Ben would manipulate the allegations to say that Dana was in fact abusing him. She believes that he held more sway with adults than she did, as he was the younger child.

Throughout this time Dana and Ben were always kept together, which was the worst possible thing that could happen. Even when her foster parents were provided with respite care they would be sent to this together, meaning she never had any time away from him.

Dana made a second formal disclosure to DOCS when she was 17, telling the same worker who had attended the previous meeting. ‘I was hoping she would take me out of the environment or remove my brother Ben but she just sent me back. I guess I trusted her to do the right thing because she had been my worker for a long time.’ She was, however, sent back to the placement.

After being kicked out of the foster home in her late teens, she went to live with one of her sisters, only to discover that Ben was also living there. ‘I lasted only one week living with my sister because my brother sexually abused me every day.’ She contacted her caseworker, who picked her up and took her to a refuge.

It was hard for Dana even being in the same town as Ben. She was scared of him, and people who knew of the abuse stigmatised her. Unable to catch a bus or walk around the streets for fear of bumping into him, she soon relocated to another city. There she lived in hostels, and spent time in psychiatric facilities.

When she was 19 Dana made a third formal report about Ben’s sexual abuse and a refuge worker took her to the police. This was an extremely negative experience, and she has hated the police ever since. ‘I made a police statement with the police officer laughing throughout the whole report.’ They arranged for her to speak with Lillian, who was extremely angry with her.

‘The refuge worker and I considered the police officer’s response and attitude to my report as disrespectful and we stated this to the police officer. We were then sent down to the police station to report to another police officer who was more respectful … I thought the police would take it more seriously than they did. This is why I don’t like police officers.’

Ben was never charged, and she was not given any updates on the matter. For the next few years Dana moved around various regional towns, and was admitted to a therapeutic residential facility because of homelessness and self-harming behaviour.

This behaviour has been an issue throughout her life, and was the way she dealt with most emotions – sadness, anger, even happiness. Now she is in active recovery she covered many of the scars from the cutting with tattoos, and these have meaning and significance for her.

Dana finds her weekly counselling sessions very useful but also challenging, due to the physical and emotional toll they take. Still, she keeps going because she does not want Ben ‘to win’.

Around six years ago Dana was assisted by Legal Aid to make a victims of crime claim. The lawyers were extremely helpful, and she was awarded the maximum amount of compensation, much of which she used for holidays and items for her home.

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