Emily was sexually abused by her father, two brothers, two uncles, and a cousin, from around five years of age. Violence in the home was constant and she remembers once calling police after a particularly severe beating by her father. When police arrived they said they couldn’t do anything, because the problem was one for ‘welfare’ and not them. She suspects her brother’s acquired brain injury was caused by their father’s bashings.
Although the police nominated welfare services as the agency to deal with the family situation, they didn’t ever make a referral. ‘Year after year after year, nobody’, Emily said. ‘The police never ever followed it up. Then I’d copped a hiding with the dog’s leash. It was always with the dog’s leash. He’d fold it in half and the part that clips on, that’s what I’d cop every Saturday night. It was a regular thing.’
Emily was picked up for shoplifting in the late 1960s, when she was 13 years old. During the police interview she disclosed the sexual abuse at home. Her statement, which she later accessed, included a question from police: ‘At the time of your having sexual intercourse, did you realise you were doing wrong?’
Following her disclosure, Emily was taken away to have a vaginal examination by a government doctor. She was then removed from the family and put into a Salvation Army home as a child ‘in moral danger’. Throughout the process she wasn’t questioned further about her allegations and no investigation was undertaken into the crimes against her.
Emily witnessed a lot of self-harm in the children’s home. As well as seeing girls cut themselves, she remembered a girl spending hours on a trampoline in a (successful) attempt to miscarry. Although there was a school in the home, and Emily was keen to attend, she was told she was ’too dumb‘ and that she’d have to work in the laundry. ‘I’ve found out since that I wasn’t stupid.’
In an effort to prevent being sent back to her family home, Emily misbehaved so her sentence would be extended. However after 14 months she was released back to her family, and the sexual and physical abuse continued. Again, no one came to check on her. Rare appointments with community services staff entailed Emily and her mother travelling to an office in the city.
Her early experience led to Emily having little belief in police services, and when she reported being raped as an adult police responded by pointing to her abuse as a child.
‘They’d say, “Look at your record. You shouldn’t have been there”. It was no good reporting. So I was sort of like an easy target to be raped because they knew I would never report them. I’ve been raped quite numerous times.’
Emily experienced relationship issues, homelessness, suicidal thoughts, and poor self-esteem. She smoked marijuana heavily to suppress bad memories. Throughout these years, however, she successfully raised her children (being forever vigilant around them), and is now a happy grandmother and great-grandmother.
Around five years ago Emily received $7,000 as part of the Queensland Government’s redress scheme. She recently received an ex-gratia payment of $27,000 from the Salvation Army, but regrets not having legal representation to help with the application.
‘To me, it is not about the money or its adequacy. It is about the injustices that were done to me as a child. As an adult, I suffer 24/7 from the pain and guilt I carry around with me each day. The guilt instilled in me from the various institutions – that I was to blame. I want the departments to recognise and own up that they wronged me by not protecting me from certain family members.’
Emily said she still feels ashamed and embarrassed, even though she’s been told and tried to believe the abuse wasn’t her fault. Numerous attempts at counselling have not gone well because the workers always moved on and each time she’d have to start again telling her story.
Recently Emily attended a program in New South Wales specifically for those who’d been sexually abused as children, and feels it was the most helpful thing she’d ever done.
‘It’s amazing. I went there thinking, what can you teach me in five days? I went in with an open mind. When they started explaining about the left brain, right brain and how it shuts down to protect itself and that’s why we don’t learn and things like that, it all made sense, that I wasn’t as dumb as what I’d been told I was. I wasn’t stupid, like I’d been led to believe. It was something I really needed.’