Jenna described her childhood as ‘sad and violent’. She started out in a large blended family living in Queensland in the mid-1990s, and after her parents separated when she was a toddler, she went to live with her mother.
When Jenna was eight, she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. He was a violent man and within a year, Jenna and her mother went to live in a women’s refuge.
They stayed there a year, but Jenna wasn’t happy because its location made attending school difficult. She was glad when her father found her and took her to live with him, but after two years or so, he ‘didn’t want to care’ for her anymore.
At 11, Jenna was made a ward of the state and placed into foster care. She didn’t see her father again. In the first foster home, Jenna lived with the adult couple and five other children. She began acting out and was regularly punished by her foster mother. Here, she was also sexually abused by an older boy. She said the abuse happened on several occasions while her foster mother wasn’t home.
Jenna couldn’t tell anyone about what was happening because she didn’t understand that it was wrong, but she began to feel bad about herself. The feelings of being overwhelmed by her father’s abandonment of her as well as the sexual abuse led to her beginning to self-harm.
Jenna ‘copped a lot of bullying’ at school because she reached puberty at an early age. She ‘put on a happy face’ during lessons but was bottling up how she really felt.
‘I made it look like there was nothing going on.’
Jenna was removed from the family by her case worker and over a three year period, placed in more than 10 other foster homes. She often experienced physical abuse in these environments, and she was sexually abused when she was with the Odell family.
Jimmy Odell was her foster father, and he would show Jenna pornographic material and sexually abuse her. Over about two years the abuse occurred at least twice a week.
Jenna disclosed the abuse to her foster mother, Georgia Odell, but she wasn’t believed and was punished for ‘lying’. She then told her case worker but nothing was done. She’d gone for coffee with the case worker, who ‘took notes’ but ‘weeks went by’ and she never heard anything more.
When she went back to live with her mother, Jenna was told that she ‘seemed different’. After this she ‘hit the drugs hard’ and became dependent on alcohol. She had anger issues and would get depressed. Then and now, she often feels that people have ‘bad intentions’. Although studying was difficult with all the disruptions in her life, she managed to finish her final years of schooling and exams.
In the early 2010s, Jenna reported Jimmy Odell to the police. A senior constable took the report but Jenna found it ‘very hard’ talking to a man about the abuse. She decided not to pursue criminal charges against Odell because she ‘didn’t want to face’ him in court. She understands that other victims have reported Odell but is unsure if he was ever charged.
After disclosing details of the abuse, Jenna sought counselling. She has been seeing a counsellor for some years and trusts her completely. She says she still experiences a lot of anger and sadness but has stopped self-harming. She feels that she is too ‘unstable’ to seek work but looks forward to getting to that stage in her life.
‘I’m still trying to recover from what’s happened.’