Faye Helen's story

‘The cesspool of emotions and supressed memories that I have kept in a Pandora’s box, deep within me, surrounded by a wall to protect me, is something that I have had to carry throughout my life.’

Faye’s mother died, and her father was unable to care for her or her siblings, so they were placed into care in regional New South Wales in the early 1960s.

At the age of four, Faye was sent to a home run by the Church of England. ‘The staff were very cruel. I had my head flushed down the toilet for wetting the bed. I recall a girl who was mentally delayed … I often took her punishment as I couldn’t handle seeing her treated so badly. Her screams and cries for help still haunt me to this day.’

The children at the home were placed in foster care during the holidays, and Faye told the Commissioner that ‘my first sexual abuse happened when I was about seven years old, although I didn’t understand it at the time. A foster father made me play with his “pet lizard”, and this I later found out was his penis’.

Faye was sent to a girls’ home in Sydney when she was 11, and she stayed there for three years. ‘This period was very traumatic and has impacted on my life in many ways … I endured years of degrading treatment at the hands of those who were supposed to protect me, as well as by the other girls. The sexual acts that occurred on a regular basis were terrifying.’

When Faye reported to a staff member that other girls in the home were sexually abusing her, she was told that she was a liar, and had made it up to gain attention. ‘This made me the target for more abuse, both sexually and physically from the girls.’

While Faye was on a holiday foster placement, a teenage boy tried to rape her. She fought back and stabbed him with a pitchfork, but when she told staff at the home why she had done it, they once again accused her of lying.

‘I was taken to the clothing room and bashed … I was told that I was the Devil’s daughter and that’s why my mother died. “Now nobody wants you”. I was warned never to speak about this ever again, or I would be severely punished.’

Faye told the Commissioner that when she was 15, she was sent to another girls’ home in Sydney. ‘I have never spoken about this period of my life, as it destroyed me forever.’ Faye was repeatedly physically and sexually abused by a male staff member. After he raped her, he told her that ‘he breaks bitches like me every day and that if I told anybody then I would be sent to a reformatory’.

When she finally saw a doctor, a week after this rape and beating, the doctor’s response to her abuse was, ‘Sluts like you ask for what you get’.

Being in the girls’ home destroyed all Faye’s hopes and dreams. ‘I no longer trusted anybody. I was filled with so much shame and guilt, and my perception of the world was so distorted.’

Once she was released from care, Faye found it difficult to cope. ‘I was expected to function in this world as a normal human being. The truth is I’m a walking time bomb. You never know what will set me off or when.

'What I experienced and witnessed has had me in the deepest, darkest depths of despair on several occasions where I thought suicide was the only answer.’ Faye now takes antidepressants and suffers from panic attacks.

Faye told the Commissioner that ‘at first I turned to substance abuse so I could cope. I guess my trust issues prevented me seeking professional help. Besides, I didn’t know where to get the help I needed.

'My low self-esteem and self-doubt affect many aspects of my life. I question most things, not truly believing that I am worthy of goodness or capable of achieving anything.’ Despite this, Faye has successfully raised her children, fosters problem teenagers, and has completed studies in social welfare.

With the help of a ‘wonderful’ counsellor, Faye is beginning to come to terms with her traumatic childhood. ‘I surround myself with positive people and I have a good heart. I am not materialistic and I live in the moment. I want for nothing in life except the unconditional love of my family. Life has not been easy, but I am a survivor.'

Faye is glad that, ‘I’ve finally been given a chance to be heard. If I can save just one child from abuse, then I need to relive this in the hope that this information will be used to implement programs in the welfare system to stop the abuse, and also to raise awareness of what really went on in the homes. And finally to be validated, so I can have closure’.

Faye told the Commissioner, ‘Now that I've opened my Pandora’s box, I worry that I am not strong enough to deal with the ramifications. I would like to continue counselling as I have found with support and reassurance, I will finally find peace.

'In order for me to keep moving forward, I’ve got to get rid of that Pandora’s box. So I’ve replaced my Pandora’s box with a treasure chest, and I’m filling it with happy memories.’

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