Elena was born in the early 1980s, and placed in care as a young child. She grew up in a Western Australian Aboriginal mission, which was run by the Baptist Church.
The mission ran a bus to drive the children from the community to the local school. When Elena was five years old she was sexually abused by the bus driver on several occasions.
‘He used to take me back to his house. At one point the [bus driver’s] mother went off her head – came home, seen me there, and told the guy to drop me back at school ... Sometimes I used to run back to school.’
Elena thinks the bus driver abused other kids, including her brothers. She did not report this abuse to anyone at the time.
This wasn’t the only abuse Elena experienced at the mission. Her first cousin was ‘messing around with me – a lot of us were messed around with’, and she has a fractured memory of someone ‘touching’ her in one of the mission houses. She also witnessed other children being abused.
By the time Elena was 10 she had begun self-harming and having ‘breakdowns’, and was hospitalised for her mental health issues.
‘No-one knew what was going on ... They said, are your brothers messing around with you? I said no.’ They didn’t ask if anyone else had harmed her, and she didn’t tell them.
The mission closed down and Elena was taken back to live with her mother, ‘and she didn’t want us’. Elena witnessed ‘Mum getting bashed every day’, and would try calling the police for assistance. ‘They were saying, we’re not a taxi service you know? ... I’ve actually dragged her to the police station with a punctured lung.’
Eventually Elena decided to leave. ‘Two years I lasted with her, and I hit the street and I raised myself up.’
When Elena was 12 she ended up homeless in the city, and she remembers ‘sometimes nearly getting raped on the streets’. She moved around a lot after this, and lived in dozens of different houses.
Elena applied for the state redress scheme a few years back, and received a medium payment. She did not disclose everything that happened to her, but the process of applying still triggered memories of the abuse.
‘It’s a hard struggle, and some people don’t know they’re going through it. Until one day you wake and you’re like oh fuck, that there’s happened to me ... That redress opened up the start of it ... Everything came back, and until today I wasn’t even going to talk about it.’
Until recently Elena was in a long-term relationship. ‘Once I finished that relationship with him, because I had my own shit to deal with, that’s when all this thing just come up.’ She started using amphetamines and cannabis, but has had trouble accessing any kind of rehabilitation or other support.
Even when Elena attempted suicide last year, she did not receive any counselling. ‘I just got turned away from hospitals, refuges.’ She ended up on the street with her children, and committed offences which lead to a custodial sentence.
Her youngest kids are in kinship care now, ‘but I know I can be a good mum, I’m always a good mum to my kids. I just need the system to have faith in us ... I just want a home and a safe foundation for my kids. My kids trust me you know, they know that I’ll protect them. I won’t sleep unless I have them in my sight ... They’re good kids, I’ve taught them well, because of the street knowledge I’ve had to teach them’.
Elena spoke to the Commissioner from jail, and talked about the ongoing impacts of the abuse. ‘I’ve only just linked to mental health here in prison, and got found with PTSD. And it’s too much, it’s layers and layers of sexual abuse. And it’s too much. And because of all that’s peeled back, more comes up. And it’s like, how much more is going to come up? For oneself, it’s just too much.’
Although jail has given her time ‘to deal with my stuff ... now I feel free, ready to talk about stuff’, she does not think it is a good environment in which to start her healing. ‘I just want to feel in a good place when I do let it out. And this is not the place ... I have bad anxiety attacks in here, it’s like I want to run through the wall’.