‘I kept running away from home. I didn’t want to be bashed, I didn’t want to be starved, I didn’t want to be hurt. And I was being sexually abused by my stepfather.’
Hayley’s mum was always drunk, and her stepfather, too. When she was eight, Hayley and her little brother were found hiding under a bush, infested with head lice. There was no money in the household, no love, no toys.
She told her youth and community services workers how bad it was, but they never really believed her. ‘They believed my mum and my stepfather over anything I said. They repeatedly told me I was exaggerating the situation.’
Hayley moved between foster homes in regional New South Wales throughout the 1980s, including the Jacobs family when she was nine. Their daughter Natalie, a little bit older than Hayley, sexually abused her.
‘I don’t remember how it started, but I remember I was laying on the bed. Natalie was there with me, and it was something like “We’ll try something new” or something like that, she said to me. And then she went down and started licking my vagina ... She said, “Now do it to me” so I did it to her, and it happened again after that.’
Hayley was returned to her family, even though she pleaded with her psychologist not to be sent back. She then moved frequently, foster home after foster home, back to her family, to another foster home. These moves were always, she was told, ‘because I was a difficult child. It was my fault.’
She was sent to a state home ‘for delinquents’ when she was 10, leaving when her wardship expired. By this stage her mother and stepfather had broken up.
Her mum took her to her grandmother’s house for a visit. ‘This other bloke who was at my nanna’s house tried to rape me, and then raped one of my friends on the floor. In the file it says that I said that Mum wasn’t there. She was there. I would not have said that. I would have told them that she was there. I wanted them to get me out of the situation. She was there. She told me to shut up and get to sleep.’
The department replaced her psychologist with a social worker, who recommended that a system be put in place to keep Hayley connected to her family.
Finally, when her mother punched her in the face in a public bar, nobody could tell her she made it all up. This time ‘they had public witnesses. Not just my word anymore ... Then they made me a ward until I was 18. But from eight until 13, they told me it was my fault, that I was a liar, that I was exaggerating.’
She was returned to the state home, but her trauma was not properly addressed. ‘I was 15, and I was already telling them that I wanted to die ... I am going to kill myself.’
A psychiatrist recommended anti-depressants, but she was not given these, or any therapy. ‘What they did do, a couple of months later, was have a case conference ... planning more contact with my mother and I.’
All this time, her little brother stayed with their mum. Hayley could not see him without her mother being present. He took his own life in his early 20s. ‘They left him there, even after everything ... They killed him.’
Hayley continued to move between group homes and refuges, and stayed with people she met on the street. ‘Then, they had the brightest idea – to send me to live with my stepfather in a remote community ... the stepfather that had already been suggested was sexually abusive to me.’
Her stepfather and his girlfriend bashed her, so she left. There were a few other foster kids in the next house she went to, including two older boys. One of them raped her, ‘and the other wanted me to do it as well’.
Again, Hayley got the blame, this time from her foster carer. ‘She said, “What did you do that for? That’s like incest, you’re brother and sister now”.’
Her district officer told her she could not keep running away from her problems, even after she told him about what happened. He left her on the side of the road one night to make her own way. She was still a state ward. ‘When they couldn’t fix us, they abandoned us.’
She moved between refuges and friends, couches, and ‘I learned to sleep with people for a place to stay’. During this time she was raped, bashed and mugged.
Hayley battled drug and alcohol addiction, attempted suicide numerous times, and ended up in a locked psychiatric ward. She became desperate to get rid of the bad memories. For years she had been told, ‘I was a liar, I was exaggerating, it wasn’t that bad. And I believed that, I had shock therapy to get that out of my mind. Because why would I be having all these memories, where are these all coming from? It can’t be that bad, it’s not that bad, Hayley.’
Hayley surrendered her first two children. ‘I learned it was perfectly acceptable, even by the state’s standards, to abandon your children ... and that’s exactly what I did.’
Becoming pregnant again, when she was a lot older, pushed her to get off drugs and stop drinking. She sought help for her mental health, and left her violent relationship.
Life is still hard for Hayley, even with regular therapy and medication. She ‘zones out’ a lot, and doesn’t have any friends as ‘people think I am weird’. She dreams of having her own home, ‘a safe place’ for her and her child.
And she remembers all those children who didn’t make it this far, like her little brother. ‘All the kids that are dead now, and when they died, they would have been thinking that it’s their fault.’