Erma is an Indigenous woman born in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in the mid 1970s. She spent many years in foster care, from the age of five. Erma experienced sexual abuse at the hands of various carers. Erma recalls one of her abusers had a brother who was a policeman. She did not report the abuse at the time.
When Erma was about 12 years old she moved to the Northern Territory. She shifted between various institutions and foster families for a few years. While in foster care she was raped ‘a couple of times’ by one of her foster fathers.
Later in life Erma spoke up, and believes she has suffered because of it. ‘When you do make the accusations then you are a whistleblower’, Erma told the Commissioner. ‘You get targeted, then they get rid of the evidence.’
Erma believes her children have been singled out for attention by the authorities because of her complaints. As teenagers they have all spent years in juvenile detention.
Erma escaped foster care eventually, but was caught up in the juvenile justice system in her teens. There she also suffered physical and sexual abuse. She managed to tell her mother about one incident when she was groped by an officer. ‘My mother reported it to the minister and the commissioner and nothing was dealt with. It’s all a cover-up.
‘Nothing has happened, because it’s the corruption of the Territory since self-government. They all cover for each other … They all have a drink with each other and they laugh about it and then see how they can cover the corruption up.’
Erma recalls the abuse at the juvenile detention centre was so bad it prompted a mass break-out at one time. ‘We made headlines in the newspaper … We all escaped. There was over a hundred of us escaped.’
Erma believes her childhood experiences hurt her deeply. Her life has been difficult as she tried to cope with her memories. She has been in prison for various property and drug offences and some violent crimes.
Erma has never received trauma-specific counselling. She believes her mental health condition has been misdiagnosed and her main problem is post-traumatic stress disorder. Erma is suspicious of the heavy medication she has been put on in the past, and believes it is linked to her complaints of abuse as a child and teenager.
Some years ago Erma returned to the site of the detention centre where she was held in the 1980s. ‘I tried to do a healing … But I couldn’t do it. I had to get out of there.’ Memories overwhelmed her. ‘How we was locked in the cells … no blankets, no nothing, we had to go to the toilet in there. Some of the girls had to wee on the ground.’
Erma has found strength in recent years by speaking out about what has happened to her and her children and trying to highlight corruption in the Northern territory.
She also has a strong faith, which has helped her survive. ‘I believe there is true justice coming and that’s judgment day.’
Erma would like to see a permanent independent body to receive complaints from abused children. ‘They should have a watchdog and every time someone is a whistleblower against these horrible people, that it should be documented now, and it should be given straight to the Royal Commission, not to anyone in the same state and territory.’