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Hellena's story

‘Predatory men, they can smell vulnerability from miles away.’

Hellena was born into a ‘dysfunctional’ family in a suburb of Melbourne in the mid-1950s. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother often experienced ‘massive depressive episodes’. Her parents separated when she was a toddler and she went to live with her mother and siblings. Life with her mother was tough as she was often neglected. She ‘barely’ attended school and never got in trouble because her mother was often drunk.

Hellena said her mother had a reputation for being promiscuous. When Hellena was 11, she came home from school to find three men waiting in the house. She went into the bedroom to find her mother having sex with a stranger, but Hellena’s entrance didn’t seem to bother her mother and she continued with the act.

Hellena wanted out. She walked to the bathroom and consumed of her mother’s medication and walked by herself to the hospital. She recalls feeling ‘safe and warm’ in the hospital where the nurses were kind to her. The nurses notified the police of what happened and her mother was arrested.

Shortly after she was released from hospital, a court hearing was held in which Hellena said she didn’t want to return to her mother’s care. She became a ward of the state after her 12th birthday and was then moved to a girls’ home in Sydney in the late 1960s. The home was ‘strict’ and she always felt ‘cold and frightened’. She stayed at the home for a number of months before being placed in a foster home in Melbourne.

The Ruperts were a couple in their 60s and ran their home on a strict, ‘authoritarian’ schedule. Hellena was locked at home without supervision from the day she arrived and ended up being a housekeeper. She said she was kept ‘like a slave’ and only given minimal provisions. She was often told that she was a ‘little ungrateful bitch’ and ‘badly damaged’.

She attended school while she was with the Ruperts, but she developed a heavy stutter and had trouble with her studies. No one at school asked why she was acting the way she did and her teachers punished her for her behaviour. She was also ostracised by her classmates because of her ‘horrible clothing’.

After several months of living with the Ruperts, Hellena befriended two male bus drivers, who were associated with the school. She said the men gave her lollies and told her what a ‘lovely little girl’ she was. She loved this ‘positive attention’ and would always be the first to get on the bus. She said the men made her feel ‘special’ and ‘worth something’ so when they started to touch her on the school bus, she didn’t question it.

‘One of them starting touching me and would progress to digital rape on the bus. I made sure I would get there before everybody else. The main perpetrator he used to get me to meet him on weekends or on his days off … Then it progressed to penetration.’

She was sexually abused by these men on several different occasions over the course of a year. She didn’t tell anyone what was happening because both men were treating her so nicely. One afternoon when she was 14, she returned to the Ruperts looking ‘hot and flustered’. Her foster mother asked her if anything was ‘going on’ and Hellena then disclosed the details of the abuse to her.

The Ruperts reported one of the bus drivers to the police and he was charged with carnal knowledge. The other man wasn’t reported or charged. She was told that she ‘ruined’ the Ruperts’ lives and she was a ‘filthy, dirty prostitute’. The foster arrangement was terminated when she turned 15 years old.

Hellena has suffered from depression and flashbacks. She explained that she has made irrational decisions, basing them on the ‘flight or fight’ response. She has had several careers, but felt that she couldn’t achieve her full potential with them. She was in an abusive marriage for several years, which was very difficult to cope with. She was hospitalised several times and received some psychiatric treatment, but this did not help her.

In the early 2010s, Hellena experienced a major breakdown. She was placed into a psychiatric clinic and received treatment from a private therapist, which helped her deal with her issues. She said that despite her progress, she still experiences flashbacks and dissociation, and she ‘overreacts’ in some situations.

Aside from her therapists, Hellena has never disclosed the details of her abuse to anyone. Her family don’t know about her past. She has not taken any civil action against the state, but was interested in receiving legal advice. She said she will continue to attend counselling as it helps her.

‘I still feel if I had been put in the right environment I think I would have had a chance to be more repaired. It really hurts that I probably never reached my full potential … When your brain’s traumatised you don’t make rational decisions.’

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