By the time Eileen was 13 both her parents had abandoned her and her siblings. First their mother and then their father. It was the early 1970s. ‘One day pressures got the better of my father and he just disappeared. I found him in 1994, six months after he had died.’
While in the care of their aunt, who made it clear she wasn’t wanted, Eileen attempted suicide. She was 14. Following that she was made a ward of the state and placed in a youth training centre in Victoria.
Conditions were harsh, and staff were often cruel or disinterested. Within the first week Eileen was forced to undergo an intrusive medical check. ‘That’s where I lost my virginity …
‘You say anything to a staff person and they say, “Yeah, whatever”. They spend more time in their little offices at the end of the corridor, having their cups of teas, than doing anything else.’
Eileen was assigned a social worker, Simon Lang, from the welfare department. She would see him in one of the few offices that didn’t have glass in the doors. He would bring her things, sometimes chocolate. One day he touched her sexually. ‘He started kissing me, telling me that if I behave myself that he could make things better for me.’
Afterwards Eileen told a staff member who slapped her and called her a liar. Eileen was then locked in a room, isolated, for three days. The room had no bed, only a blanket. ‘You learned very quickly – don’t talk about it.’
A week later, when she saw Lang again, he threatened her. He abused her over a period of three months, raping her four times, once when they were out on day release. The abuse stopped when he was transferred.
Eileen left the home when she was 16. Her education ceased. There was no support.
She never told her family members about the abuse. She disclosed to her first husband who, though horrified, was supportive. ‘He was just wonderful … After he died I then met the total opposite, the man from hell.’
Eileen’s second husband was violent and abusive and she couldn’t keep her children safe. ‘I tried to protect my children from him. I went to [the] police station with my children. Put my children on the counter and said, “Keep them because I can’t protect them”. They then proceeded to have me charged with abandoning my children. And they gave them to him. Last month he was sentenced to six years imprisonment for sexually abusing them.’
Eileen’s children were put in the care of the state and fostered out. She is aware of serious incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated on her children while in foster care. Her grandchildren are also in foster care and Eileen has concerns about their care as well.
The intergenerational abuse is a huge impact of what happened to Eileen. She is keenly aware that, even though the institution where she was abused has been closed down, institutional abuse still occurs in foster care.
‘I was sexually abused. I’ve been physically abused. I’ve been emotionally abused when I was a child. I’m 55 years old now and it is still going on.’
Eileen educated herself over the years, had jobs and ran a business. She has never been a drinker or abused drugs. She doesn’t even take anything for a headache.
She obtained her files from welfare but much of her information was missing. Eileen recently reported Lang to the police but so far they can’t locate him. She hasn’t applied for compensation.
‘This thing of redress … Yeah, I’d love a payout. I really would. I’d love a big payout. But let’s face reality. I would budget my money and I’m one of the lucky ones. But a lot of them out there, through the abuse that’s happened to us, have turned to drugs, turned to alcohol … gaming is a main one. If we as victims are given a large sum of money I can see all those people just, bang.’
Eileen would like to see the expenditure monitored. ‘I don’t want to see all these people that think, “Ah yeah, fantastic. I’ve got a payout from it”, and we go and collect their body because they’ve just overdosed.’