Glenda was sexually abused by her father when she was a little girl in the 1960s. Her father also bashed Glenda’s mother, who left him when Glenda was about 12. Glenda then told her mother about the abuse.
The South Australian police became involved. Glenda recalls being interviewed, alone, by two male officers. ‘I was locked in a room for about an hour’, Glenda told the Commissioner, ‘where the officers made me sit there to try to remember the name of what a penis was, because I didn’t know. My mother never talked about sex to me … it was horrific for a child to tell and then be treated that way by them. There was no counselling, there was no help, there was no support.’
The police officers told Glenda she was lying. No action was taken.
Glenda’s mother had entered into a new relationship, and this man also began sexually abusing Glenda. ‘He threatened if I told he would kill my mother and sister, and that no one would believe me anyway. For over two years he constantly abused me in any place he could.’
When Glenda’s mother eventually discovered her partner in bed with Glenda, she turned on her daughter, calling Glenda a slut. Glenda was sent interstate to live with relatives for a while. When she returned to her mother, who had moved to Perth, it was made it clear that Glenda was not welcome.
After a night sleeping on the couch, Glenda was taken away by police or welfare workers. She was declared a ‘neglected child’ and sent to a state-run juvenile detention centre in Perth. She was 15.
‘I had told about my father and suffered years of abuse. I had told about my stepfather and my mother hated me, and I had lost my sister. And I had been placed in an institution where most of the children there had committed crimes. I was locked up and my stepfather was still free.’
Life in the detention centre felt like life in jail. There were various activity rooms and different coloured gowns to be worn in each area. ‘We had to strip off one gown in a cloakroom-type area and change to another so we didn’t steal scissors, knives and pens.’
Glenda recalls being strip searched by guards, male and female, while in the change area. ‘We were told to face the wall with our hands on the wall. The men made comments about my weight and my breasts. I don’t recall if we still had pants on, whether they were lowered or we were just naked, because I cut off … they call it dissociation.
‘One of the ladies … she used two or three digits to explore both passages and I do not recall gloves or anything being used. These searches happened many times.’
Glenda learned to dissociate as a survival technique while in the centre. ‘I, at the time, closed off my mind to everything, for it was abuse all over again. I stood against that wall and in my head I became an object with no feelings or thoughts. I closed down.
‘This was the last thing I could take. I just cut myself off to protect me, and I just didn’t exist.’
The familial abuse combined with the trauma of the detention centre had a lifelong impact. ‘Being locked in [the centre] made me believe I was worthless, totally unloved and that nowhere in my world would the abuse ever stop. There was no trust, safety or support.’
Glenda’s mother took her out of the centre after several months. Glenda had developed a mistrust of authority figures and stopped going to school. She began a series of dysfunctional relationships with abusive men and often resorted to the dissociation she had learned in detention.
‘It’s horrific when I cut off and don’t have emotion, but I think that’s what’s saved me in life.’
Glenda avoided alcohol and drugs. She had to look after her younger sister, and her own children through difficult times as an adult. ‘Someone had to stay strong and I guess it’s always had to be me.’
Nightmares and flashbacks still trouble Glenda. After decades of keeping the abuse bottled up she has recently been helped by the counselling service Bravehearts. And she now has a partner she loves and trusts. ‘I’ve been blessed to find [him], but it’s been a long, hard journey to get there.
‘I cry often for the child who was punished … I was punished for telling. Every time I told I was punished. I was punished by the South Australian police … if I’d been believed I might not have had to go back home to what happened to me.
‘I cry for her loss of memory … I cry for her loss of worth, value and self-esteem that led to a lifetime of relationships based on fear and destruction.’
Glenda believes not much has changed as yet in the way society and institutions deal with children. She is hopeful the Royal Commission will have a lasting impact and its recommendations do not ‘gather dust on the shelf’.
‘I tell this now in the hope that no child will ever be treated this way in the care of the church, the state or others. That somewhere someone will change the system and make those accountable be counted. That’s not just those that offended but the services that allowed them to offend.’