Jillian lived with her mother and father until the age of eight when she was removed from the family home in Western Australia. Despite being a ward of the state from an early age, she didn’t ever speak to a welfare or community services worker and her first years were marked by family violence and sexual abuse perpetrated by her father.
‘I could write a book about what my dad done to me’, she said. One of Jillian’s earliest memories is of her ‘dad messing around with us’. When she told an aunt about her father’s sexual abuse, Jillian was called ‘a lying slut’.
‘I was pleased when the welfare did take us away’, Jillian said. ‘But I never ever – I kept silent about that until I turned 43 and I was sitting there talking to my sister one day and I didn’t know my brother was out the back and she said, “That happened to me too”.’
Over a period of time, welfare workers removed Jillian and all her siblings from the family home, sending them in different directions to be accommodated on Aboriginal missions throughout Western Australia.
In the mid 1950s, Jillian was placed in a Catholic mission outside Perth. Not long after she arrived, one of the priests touched her sexually while she was serving meals. There was no one she could tell about what had happened as the nuns ‘weren’t really nice’ and she’d already ‘copped quite a few slaps around the ears’.
Jillian told the Commissioner her memory of time in the mission and thereafter remained patchy and ‘a great majority of it is gone’. She had a positive experience after being sent to live with a family when she was aged 11 because it was the first time in her life she felt safe, but it ‘wasn’t long enough’ and she was returned to her parents where the abuse started again. ‘[I’d been] safe there. I had a bed to sleep in without being terrorised, poked and prodded through the night.’
When she left the family home again it was to be with a man who was extremely violent. She had children with him but miscarried twice as a result of his physical assaults. She ‘didn’t deal with things very well’ and ‘got on drugs’, ending up on the street as ‘a total drunk’. Several of her children were removed and put into state care.
After leaving the father of her children, Jillian met a man who she credited with helping her stop using drugs and alcohol. She was able to take back custody of two of her children and set about looking out for her grandchildren, who had also been put into state care. Finding out that many of her children and grandchildren had been sexually abused in foster care was devastating for Jillian and caused wide rifts in the family. She battled the Department of Child Protection (DCP) for custody of her grandchildren and was successful in raising five of them.
As part of the Redress WA scheme, Jillian received $13,000 which she described as ‘crap’. The accompanying apology was ‘useless’. Soon after this she approached the Catholic Church and received a payment of $3,000.
Jillian told the Commissioner she still saw a lot of broken families in the community. Many parents used drugs and alcohol at excessive levels and children were constantly at risk of harm. Rather than removing children however, she thought strong support services were the best way of breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect.
‘There’s lots of mothers out there, my sister’s kids as well – as soon as that baby’s born, they’re taken straight from the crib. Don’t get to see that mother, no bond, no nothing and then when they want to give the children back to them, that child doesn’t know that parent, so that child doesn’t want nothing to do with the mother. And some of them are, some of them aren’t, very nasty. They’d like to kill their mother you know? They turn very violent towards them. Where a lot of violence starts is through that there …
‘There are some mothers out there, yes that are on drugs, but instead of taking their children, put them in a rehab place with their child and let them see their child every day. Don’t lost that bond. That’s what they should do – not take the child and put them with foster people. Then they’re calling them, that’s their parent. Help that mum, help that dad. The father’s just as important as the mum.’