When Janice was three years old in the early 1960s, her brother died and while her mother was ‘going through the grieving process’, Janice was placed in an Aboriginal mission in Western Australia.
Her memories of the mission are of being made to work and scrub floors, having her scalp burned with kerosene, and being fed weevil-infested food. She was happy when after two or three years her parents came to collect her.
Not long after returning home, Janice was raped by a man who’d visited the family home. She was taken to hospital and the man was charged and imprisoned, but Janice has no memory of any of these events and only learned of them as an adult from her mother.
After her parents separated, Janice was placed first in an assessment centre and then a year later, at about the age of nine, in a Methodist children’s home. While she was in the home she was sexually abused by the cottage father, Herbert Parnell. The abuse occurred most often at night time after Mrs Parnell had gone to bed.
‘He’d actually come up the stairs and go in to check his wife … Everybody’s all quiet so you really don’t know what he was doing until he come to your bed. You don’t know if he’s doing it to the other kids, and he’d come and he’d feel, feel, put his hand in the bed and feel you and you’d toss and you’d turn, but you don’t want to be awake.’
The abuse continued for about two years, during which time Janice said she ‘became real hard’.
Apart from Parnell’s abuse, Janice knew the caretaker sexually abused boys ‘up in the bush’, and Janice’s sister became pregnant after being sexually assaulted by another cottage parent. She was forced to terminate the pregnancy.
Janice described herself as ‘a very naughty girl’ who was often involved in fights. ‘Violence was the only way I knew how to protect myself.’
She constantly tried to escape but was always caught by police and returned. During her early teens, Janice was sent briefly to a girls’ hostel which she liked and to a juvenile detention centre. Throughout this time she had no education.
Her first arrest for criminal behaviour was after she and some other girls stole a car with a plan to drive to Sydney. She was incarcerated in the south of Western Australia and then released back into her mother’s care.
Janice had her first child when she was 17, and as a young adult she became addicted to alcohol, drugs and gambling. As her violent behaviour continued, she accrued a long charge list that resulted in several terms of imprisonment.
While she was in jail, two of her sons were placed into care in the same Methodist children’s home and both were sexually abused by an older boy.
Many of Janice’s extended family had substance use issues and several died as a result of this and other incidents of violence.
Janice’s grandfather had been taken from his mother at eight years of age and sent to work as a stockman on a cattle station. ‘All my grandparents were Stolen Gen’, she said.
It was a slow process putting the pieces of her family history back together and reconnecting had been difficult.
‘You think, well yeah, I know where I come from but everything is like a journey of life where you’re put into situations that you’re really, like in a bubble, in a plastic bag. You’re in there and you’re fighting your way to get out’, she said.
As part of Redress WA, Janice received $13,000 which she ‘didn’t feel very good about’. It seemed that she was being told ‘Here’s some money, forget about it, go away now’, and nobody had been particularly interested in hearing her story.
‘By being heard here, right, it’s more than an apology, because now somebody is listening and somebody is taking notice and I am being heard.’
Janice caught up on her education and is now studying for an undergraduate degree, for herself and also so she can be a positive example to her children and grandchildren.
‘The trauma of my childhood sexual and physical and emotional abuse continues to impact upon my family. Our children are taken from us and the trauma is perpetuated.’