‘Even though he was 15 and somebody said “He was under the age of consent, he’s a child”, he would have known exactly what he was doing. Otherwise he wouldn’t have told me to shut up … I’d been told to shut up before from my stepfather.’
Elisa’s mother was an alcoholic who spent most of her time down at the pub, and Elisa was often sexually abused her by her stepfather. It was he who taught her how to shut up.
In the early 1970s, when she was 10, Elisa and her brothers and sister were made wards of the state. After a period in a reception centre, the siblings were split up and Elisa went to live with a foster family in Sydney, who seemed very wealthy compared to what she’d been used to.
The family had four children and 15-year-old, Morgan, was the one who abused her. When shows came on television that she was too young to watch, Elisa would be sent to bed. Morgan would come into her room and put his hand down her pants. She tried to resist but he was much stronger than her. She even tried to hide under the bed but he crawled in after her and would rub himself up against her. He always told her to keep her mouth shut.
She said that she was scared of him and even when she saw him years later she still felt frightened.
‘I didn’t tell anyone what had happened to me. I knew no one would believe me. I didn’t know who I could tell.
‘He knew exactly what he was doing and I’d never handled or willingly touched a man’s genitals or anything like that. It was bad enough the stepfather – what he used to do.’
After about a year, the family said her placement wasn’t working out and she was sent to a girls’ home. She was later placed with a different foster family who treated her very well, and with whom she is still in touch.
When she was about 15, Elisa decided to write to Morgan’s mother and tell her what had happened, but she never received any response. She now feels guilty that she never followed it up as Morgan might have gone on to abuse others.
A few years after Elisa had set herself up on her own, her younger sister took an overdose and killed herself. She found out from her brother that the foster father her sister had been placed with had been sexually abusing her.
‘I thought “Oh, if I’d only got her away, I might have been able to help her too”. I’m angry about that because that’s another foster family that had a child and raised it then he started fooling with her.’
Elisa is still very distressed about her sister’s death.
‘It’s sad that for circumstances beyond our control, our lives have been just damaged. The other word is survivor – we’re survivors, we got through. The alternative isn’t that great. After my sister overdosing and doing what she did, there’s no way the government is going to get my lot too.’
Elisa married and had children but there have been difficulties, especially around sexual intimacy.
‘There’s some things that I just feel like I’m going to be sick in intimate situations. I try and try and get my head around it but it doesn’t always work.’
Her first marriage broke down, as did her second. But she has managed to break the cycle of abuse and give her kids the chances she wasn’t given. And she says she’d defend her kids to the end of the earth.
‘I’ve ended up as a single parent raising my kids pretty well. In my second marriage I raised his kids pretty well. I’ve got a good relationship with my first husband … and our kids are doing well. That’s my proudest achievement. If I did top myself, I never would have had that.’
She has regained contact with one of her brothers and they are very close now. Elisa said she regrets what they missed by being separated from each other.
‘I thought why? That was so hard because I thought I don’t know what we’ve done that was wrong.’
She has also found solace in a support group for people who have been in care.
‘Sometimes you can tell other people are damaged much more than I am. They’ve had a really tough life, in and out of jails and stuff. And it’s not surprising.’
The group also helped her seek out her records but she found large sections missing or blacked out.
‘That angers me a lot because I thought you’ve just wiped out somebody’s life. This is all I had.’
Elisa has had a good working life. However, she continues to look to the future and is considering further study while managing to maintain an incredibly positive outlook on life.
‘I’ve got my kids, I’ve got my grandkids, life’s good. I’ve got a million really really great girlfriends … if there’s anything to learn in life you learn about the great people that are out there.’