Jessica was born in the early 1950s and put into state care when she was two years old. For a while she was fostered by a couple named Mr and Mrs Miller. Jessica said, ‘I always thought they were my mum and dad. I didn’t know no different’.
Jessica spent the next few years bouncing between the Millers’ place and various care homes. It was a painful and confusing time. She recalled one occasion when she was getting set to leave the home and visit the Millers for the Christmas holidays. When the day came, two other girls were sent to the Millers instead and Jessica was sent to stay with a family she’d never met before. Still, she got over that and later returned to the home, eager for news.
‘I was really excited because I knew the girls were coming back from me mum and dad and they’d probably have a present for me. Well, they didn’t come back.’
The Millers adopted the two girls and left Jessica to live at the home. Angry and upset, she escaped. She was caught and eventually sent back to the Millers. By then the relationship had soured. ‘I got accused of something I didn’t do and I ran away.’ After that, Jessica was sent to a state-run girls’ home.
By this time, Jessica was an outspoken 14-year-old. She told the Commissioner, ‘I only open me mouth to change feet … If someone picks on me then I’ve got to have a go back. If it’s true or I’ve done something wrong then I’ll take it but if I haven’t I can’t just sit there and not say nothing’.
One day she ‘back answered’ Mr Boyd, a staff member who worked at the home. He grabbed her by the neck and marched her down to the isolation cells. ‘He started saying things to me like I’m funny, and he took me to the wall, told me to turn around and touch my toes, which I did.’
Boyd then anally raped her. Looking back, Jessica believes he didn’t use his penis but some kind of object. ‘It seemed to go on forever. After that he told me to turn round and he said I’m not so funny now, and then he left.’
Jessica was left there in isolation for two days. She said her underwear was stained with blood. As soon as she was released she went to see the manager of the home and told him what Boyd had done to her. ‘He told me to get clean knickers and to hand him the ones that I had on, and that he would deal with it. I never heard any more about it … We had a nurse there but he didn’t even get them to check my behind or nothing.’
Jessica found out later that at least one other girl at the home had also been raped by Boyd.
Eventually, Jessica was sent to another home. She told the Commissioner, ‘I thought it would be better, but gee I was so wrong’. There she was forced to shower in front of female and male staff, was denied sanitary products and kept in isolation for so long that ‘I thought I was going mad’.
By this time Jessica had discovered that the Millers weren’t her biological parents, so to cope with all the horror of the home she made up fantasies about her real mum and dad. ‘My Mum was someone sort of like Hollywood, but not at Hollywood. Someone very, very popular and does movies and stuff.’
Jessica’s other coping strategy was to shut things out. ‘It’s really, really hard not to just give up, go inside yourself. And I built a barrier, a wall, and I wouldn’t let anybody in my wall.’
Many years passed before Jessica was able to share her story with anyone. Nowadays she’s got the support of some close friends and family. She’s also been in contact with several of the women who grew up in the same girls’ home.
Still, she said she continues to struggle with feelings of guilt and shame and often asks herself ‘but if’. ‘If you weren’t in that position, if you weren’t there in the first place.’ But all that doubt and self-blame goes out the window when she starts thinking about the risk of other kids being abused.
‘I’m a great-grandma now … and I know what I’m about to say is so wrong but if anybody hurt them, I’d kill them. And I’m so sorry for saying that but I know – I wouldn’t plan it but I know I’d be so angry. Because it’s okay for me, my life’s nearly over, but theirs isn’t.’