‘When I was 16, I was living in a youth shelter. My mum, she drank a lot and she was having a really bad marriage with my stepdad. He was really violent. They both kind of were.
I just, it wasn’t easy to be there and then my mum, I went into foster care for a couple of months but then I wanted to move away because I was having trouble with a boy at school so I moved to … a youth shelter.’
In 2009, Dani moved to a youth shelter in regional Queensland. She didn’t know anybody in the town and the shelter was only funded to provide staff in the evenings and overnight so everyone had to leave at seven o’clock each morning and they weren’t allowed back until seven at night.
‘They’d tell you to go and try and find a job or something but they’d just sort of put you out the door and I didn’t know anyone so the only people I had to talk to was all the kids they’d kicked out previously that would hang around the front. Some of them were 20 something. I think 21 was the oldest.’
Dani said she didn’t really want to spend all her time with the group but there was nothing else to do. One day they were at a house when someone pressured her to drink homemade spirits.
‘I don’t know what was in it but I had a couple of drinks with them and then I couldn’t move. And then I woke up and one of the older boys that was there, I got raped by one of the older boys, and then I tried to fight him off but he ended up assaulting me and then they called the police and the police took me to the hospital but I freaked out at the hospital so I just walked home. And then I tried to kill myself a couple of days later but another one of my friends, she convinced me to call the workers from the shelter, and I told them and they just kind of seemed like they were bothered by it. I told them I wanted to go to the police.’
The youth workers initially didn’t want to respond to Dani’s call but eventually one came to collect her. ‘She took me to the police station but dropped me off’, Dani said. ‘I was confused why she didn’t come in with me. I didn’t want to go in by myself.’
The youth shelter organised a unit for Dani to stay in but she wasn’t there long when friends of the boy she’d reported to police started intimidating her. As well as following her around town, they’d break into the unit and destroy things. Because of the damage they caused, Dani was told by the youth workers that she’d have to vacate the unit.
‘They said I didn’t know anybody so they didn’t think it was a good idea to give me the unit and I’d be better somewhere else, but they didn’t do anything, they just kicked me out.
‘I lived on the streets for a couple of weeks with a girl I met and then I moved in with her mum. I didn’t have any supports so that was the hard part that I had to do it by myself.’
Dani eventually went back to her mother’s house but didn’t tell her about the sexual assault. Her mother told her she was different and ‘seemed stronger’ so Dani ‘went with it’ and found it easier to pretend nothing had happened.
She didn’t return to the town to find out what happened with her police report. ‘I didn’t follow up with any of the court stuff ‘cause I just freaked out. I didn’t know what to do so I started drinking and I got really suicidal and then I left that town and I never really dealt with it again until I came here and one of the ladies convinced me to tell someone.’
Dani spoke to the Commissioner from jail where she was serving a lengthy custodial sentence. She’d talked about the assault while in jail after she started having flashbacks and realised she ‘was more affected’ than she thought.
Looking back on the previous seven years Dani saw the harmful behaviours she’d displayed and thought they were part of her pattern of denial. So too were her violent relationships.
‘Every partner that I seemed to be with after that was really abusive and I always left them. Being in here and talking to the girls I realise it was kind of the cycle that you get in. I even kind of felt like it was my fault for some reason. That’s just how I felt. I didn’t have anyone to tell me.’
Dani said she’d been prompted to speak to the Royal Commission because she had cousins ‘in welfare’ and hoped they’d never be put in her situation.
‘A lot of things have happened in the time from now to then that my life I feel would have gone in a different direction. I didn’t finish school and lots of things. I knew that I had to go [to the shelter] to get a better life than I had, but it didn’t go like that. Now my head’s damaged for the rest of my life.’