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Jacqueline Heather's story

‘I was basically just running wild. My mother … gave me to my grandmother when I was five months old. I lived in … an Aboriginal settlement and my grandmother was a very kind woman and didn’t put any boundaries or rules down, so that led me to get out of control, and Child Safety ended up snatching me in [the early 1980s] … just before I turned 10.’

Jacqueline didn’t even get to say goodbye to her family when she was taken to the Child Safety office. ‘I remember trashing the office because I wanted to go home. They locked me in. I trashed everything until I got exhausted.’ She was then driven for three and a half hours, to a group home for Aboriginal children, run by the Church of Christ in Queensland.

The home was very strict. ‘Every couple of years we had different carers. Sometimes the carers stayed longer, sometimes we’d just have a carer … for a few weeks … I had a few over the eight years and some were … all of them were horrible, all bastards.’

Jacqueline told the Commissioner, ‘There was a lot of beatings, a lot of physical abuse … A lot of the times, not only with the staff, it was with the other kids too’. Jacqueline was the only child in the group home with no siblings. She had no one to stick up for her, so she got into a lot of fights.

The worst of Jacqueline’s carers were Mr and Mrs Shipley.

‘They used to whip me with the jug cord. I used to have a lot of marks on me from getting whipped from the cord, because the cord really stings. It lashes into your flesh and I was only 10, 11 years old and getting whipped.’

Mr Shipley also sexually abused Jacqueline regularly. He would rub his erect penis up against her and grope her. Sometimes he would make her sit on his lap for hours. ‘It was fucking horrible … to feel his private erect. He always wore shorts so it was skin on skin and he had me in a bear hug where I couldn’t move … for hours, and that was my punishment. All because he wanted to show me who was boss.’

Jacqueline was exposed to a lot of sexual activity at the group home. ‘I seen a lot of sexual stuff with the other kids. One of the carers … his brother used to come and visit … [He] was interfering with one of the boys, and then the boys started doing sexual things to all the girls.’

Every three months a caseworker from Child Safety would come and visit.

‘We’d pour our hearts out to her and nothing would get done and this happened for a good 12 months. They put that in place … and then each time we’d say something, nothing would get done.’

After 12 months of trying to report the abuse, ‘I shut down and stopped talking. She’d build our trust up, to get everything out of us, and then kick us in the guts’. Jacqueline only told the caseworker about the physical abuse, not the sexual abuse she experienced.

Being in care ‘controlled my whole life. Even being free … I remember when I went into the Aboriginal hostel … I couldn’t believe that I was free to walk … across the road to the shop without asking. I was turning 18 and you know what I did? I walked across the road 10 times just to get it in my head that I didn’t even have to ask and … I was free … It was a really, really big impact for me because they were so strict and abusive … and controlling’.

Jacqueline had the first of her many children when she was 19. After living with domestic violence for over 15 years, Jacqueline’s children were placed in care, and it took her over three years to get them back.

Having her children taken from her, ‘broke me. It broke my spirit. And I’ve never been the same since … That was the worst thing that ever, ever happened to me. It was worse than being taken from my family, which was the worst thing ever that I lived with right up until domestic violence and when they took my kids. I’m highly traumatised from that’.

Jacqueline told the Commissioner, ‘I’ve just been sad all my life … I just want to die. Just don’t want to live no more, you know. Don’t want to feel sadness anymore. Because I’m sick of it. Sick of having a miserable life. Nothing going right for me. So that’s where I’m at’.

Jacqueline has had issues with alcohol in the past but has tried to put these behind her. She is trying to rebuild relationships with her children, but it hasn’t been easy. They are currently undergoing family therapy. ‘It’s a wonder I’m not dead … I have been through suicide and stuff like that … I’ve lost a sibling to suicide … My kids are the only thing that’s keeping me alive.’

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