‘I reckon a lot of the Indigenous kids that are put in care, foster care with relatives, a lot of them are being sexually abused. And it’s not detected because they’re relatives. I know many, many other girls besides me who have gone through that there, and haven’t spoken up because the perpetrators are close members of our families.’
Karen was born in the early 1970s, and lived with her mother and father on a station in regional Western Australia. As the family got bigger they moved into town. Her parents started drinking heavily, and it was a violent home.
Because of this situation Karen was made a ward of the state. She was put into kinship foster care with an aunt and uncle who had children of their own, and lived in a different town. Her siblings followed a bit later. ‘My brother and sisters were all together now and I was happy about that. I do remember my mum and dad used to come up and down all the time to visit us.’
As they got older, the children were made to do lots of heavy chores, and would get beaten if these were not completed. Karen was the eldest girl in the house, and her uncle began sexually abusing her in the chicken shed while she was working out there.
‘He would follow me in there and make me stand there while he would sexually penetrate me with his fingers, and also rub my breast ... After he done those things he would leave me in the pen and I’d have to continue my chores.’
At first, Karen didn’t understand what her uncle was doing to her, or that it was wrong – ‘I just thought that was normal, I guess’. As the abuse continued, ‘I started thinking that it was my fault. I didn’t want him to do those things to my sisters, so I never told my aunt or anyone. Plus I didn’t think my aunty would’ve believed me’.
Karen would try to come home late to avoid her uncle, but would still be abused – ‘I felt horrible and sad.’
‘After my 10th birthday he said I was a big girl now, and that’s when he started having oral sex with me. It felt horrible and it would hurt me.’
She and her siblings were then sent to a government children’s home for a while. ‘I know I was real happy there ... and I played a lot, like a child should.’ When the home closed down the welfare department decided the children should be returned to her aunt and uncle.
Her uncle continued to sexually assault her. ‘I can remember hating him more and more. He would do this to me but still I didn’t tell anyone, and everyone thought he was a good person.’
She often ran away from this placement, and would go looking for her parents. At times she found her mum and dad drinking in a park, but welfare would always return her to the aunt and uncle, and she’d get a belting.
Nobody ever asked why she was running away.
When her parents managed to get into Aboriginal housing, the children were returned to them. They soon started drinking again, and Karen and her siblings went back to the kinship placement.
Karen’s uncle and aunt were also drinking heavily by this stage. ‘I still got sexually abused. It seemed to be more often now they drank more. I was a lot older now and also knew what my mum’s brother was doing to me was wrong ... But the only thing I could do was start running away again.’
Welfare finally removed her and her siblings from their care. She was placed at an Aboriginal mission, where she remained until her mid teens.
Going back to her own family again, Karen found a job and started a relationship. Her experiences of sexual assault made it hard for her to be intimate with her partner. Still in her teens, she had her first child.
As an adult she has isolated herself from her family, self-harmed, and used drugs and alcohol to cope with the trauma in her past. After her partner died, she became homeless and her children were taken into care.
Karen did not apply to the state redress scheme as she was grieving at the time and so unable to get an application together. She has never accessed her records, or taken any civil action, but would like to investigate her options for compensation.
‘If there’s any way I could get that I would love to. ‘Cause I’ve buried two grandchildren, and my partner. And I’d love to put headstones on their graves.’
Karen’s uncle died a couple of years ago, and the rest of the family were sad. She disappeared when it was time for his funeral. ‘I was happy he died. I drank and drugged on the day of his burial.’
Her family still doesn’t know why she did not go to his service, as she has never told them about what he did to her. ‘They all thought I was that close to him. He reared us up.’