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Juliet's story

Juliet was placed in care (‘but we weren’t cared for’) at the age of six, after her mother left most of her kids with their alcoholic father. He was unable to look after them, and in the early 1950s Juliet lived in a number of different children’s homes. She moved to the last, an Anglican-run orphanage in central Queensland, when she was nine years old.

For the next year she was sexually abused by the home’s gardener, at least twice a week. This man was in his late 20s, and would waylay Juliet when she was outside. He made her perform sexual acts on him in the garden shed, and she remembers him ejaculating on her face. The abuse was often sadistic, and included him penetrating her vaginally and anally with sticks and other objects. ‘At nine years old, you know it’s wrong, but you can’t put name to what it is.’

The gardener said nobody would ever believe Juliet if she told them, and threatened to harm her siblings (who were also in the home) if she did. Despite these threats, Juliet disclosed the abuse to the matron. ‘I used to catch her in the bathroom, or the kitchen, whenever I could see her by herself. And I’d say, “That naughty man has been doing naughty things to me again”. And she just used to drag me by the arm out into another room, and she’d have the cane.’

The matron called Juliet an ‘evil, lying child’, beating her, and Juliet suspects she may have been the gardener's mother. Although there were no other options to report, ‘I often ask myself, “Could I have done anything else?” And I’m thinking, “Well, I tried my best”’.

When Juliet’s parents reunited, she and her siblings went back to live with them. Just before she left the home, Juliet told her mother what the gardener had done. Her mother instructed her not to tell anyone else, since she was afraid that this may somehow prevent the children being returned to the family.

Family life was not easy, and Juliet’s parents fought a lot. She left school when she was 14, and began working on a cattle station to help her mum with bills. ‘The owner’s son used to try to come into my room at night, and I used to have to lock the room. It was just repeating, all over again. But I did speak up, and told his wife.’

Arrangements were made for Juliet to return home, and man's wife ‘really gave him what-for verbally. And then I blamed myself for that as well, because I wasn’t strong enough to do much about it’.

A couple of years later Juliet married and had children. Her husband ‘was so sadistic, nearly as bad as the other one – but at least I wasn’t a child then’. He often threatened her with a gun. ‘I just needed somebody to care for me, to say they cared ... All through that I still kept remembering what happened when I was nine.’

Juliet left her husband when she was 30, and had a number of other relationships after this. Although ‘I’d love to have company’, she is on her own now. ‘I blame myself ... My eldest son said to me, “You know how to pick them”. Because they all like to drink.’

Despite working all her life, Juliet hasn’t ever had much money. Sometimes she left jobs when she felt triggered by the behaviour and comments of men in the workplace. ‘They say they’re joking, but you don’t feel as though it’s a joke. So you leave that particular job and then you’ve got no money coming in for a while. You ask Centrelink for help, and because you’ve left the job, they don’t really want to know you.’

Juliet has never reported the abuse to police, or applied for any compensation. ‘Someone mentioned it to me, that maybe it might be a little bit of help. I’m having such a struggle financially.’ Still, she was worried about what it would be like to make a claim. ‘Would that make me feel like a bum? Or like I was asking for something?’

The abuse at the home left Juliet with sleep problems and depression, for which she has been medicated in the past. Memories of the abuse frequently play on her mind. Not realising that the impacts of child sexual abuse can be lifelong for many people, she has blamed herself for her continuing suffering. ‘I thought it was my fault it was lasting so long.’

There have been physical effects too. ‘Even now, to this very day, I suffer from bladder problems.’ In recent times Juliet connected with a support organisation, and they facilitated access to her welfare files. She was offered counselling, but this requires a long trip into the city from the regional town she lives in, so she cannot afford to do this very often. Her sister has been very supportive since she told her five years ago.

Despite knowing she did everything she could to protect herself – telling the matron about the gardener, reporting the man on the station to his wife, leaving her abusive husband – Juliet finds it hard not to somehow blame herself for the things that have happened to her. ‘You feel like you’ve done something wrong to deserve it. And that’s how I’ve been all my life.’

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