Kirralee and her siblings were made wards of the state in the early 1980s, when she was three years old. They were placed in a government children’s home in regional New South Wales for the next four years.
During this time Kirralee and her sisters were sexually abused by an older boy called Derek. He would take Kirralee underneath the dining table (so they would be hidden by the large tablecloth) and fondle her genitals, also making her fondle him. Some of the older girls would make Kirralee and her sisters ‘do things’ of a sexual nature to them as well. The siblings didn’t tell anyone about the abuse at the time.
‘We weren’t subjected to sexual abuse when we were with my parents. We were put in that place to be protected, and yet we weren’t protected. I don’t understand. They had a duty of care to make sure that we were safe, and we just weren’t ... Where was the supervision?’
Next, ‘we were put into a group home, with a foster lady who was physically, emotionally, verbally abusive ... I was let down twice. My whole childhood was ruined. Going from one place to another place that was owned by the government as well’. This woman, Marilyn, would ration their toilet paper and toothpaste, making them use newspaper and salt if they ran out. ‘And she would be getting all this money not only to look after us, but also for food. And she would just take it all for herself, she would make us serve her and her friends and her family while we went and ate at another table.’
Kirralee and her siblings were also expected to provide entertainment for Marilyn, putting on plays when she had people visiting. She wonders why this placement was not better supervised. ‘We would talk to a psychologist, and she would be sitting in the room with me so I couldn’t even tell the truth.’ They would tell the worker ‘how unhappy we were’ but this would be reported back to Marilyn and the girls would be punished.
There was also a child protection caseworker ‘but she [Marilyn] was untouchable ... I went through my case file and you know, the government was giving us pocket money. We never got any of that. She took it all, she’d have the best of everything and her daughter would have the best of everything’.
Marilyn told the children that ‘when we were first with her ... we used to rock backwards and forwards, we were so disturbed’ (because of their experiences at the home) but they were never offered any counselling or support.
As a child Kirralee was perplexed by the sexual abuse. Until she was about seven, she did not know if she was a boy or a girl, being confused by the fact that she was being abused by both male and female perpetrators.
Kirralee first had sex in her early teens. ‘Why was that even allowed to happen, with a 18 year-old? ... The whole sex thing was a way for me to feel like I was loved. That’s what I thought love was.’ In her mid-teens she kept a knife under her pillow, in case ‘I ever got the courage’ to hurt herself. When she was 16, Marilyn decided she didn’t want to foster anymore, ‘so I had to leave home’.
Although Marilyn had told her ‘you’re nothing, you’ll never amount to anything, you’re too far gone’, Kirralee considers herself ‘lucky. I’m one of those people that when you say to me, “You can’t do something, you’re nothing”, just watch. I’ll show you. I can do it and I’ll be successful at it’.
When Kirralee was in her 20s and having her first child staff at the hospital asked if there was anything they should be aware of as she prepared for the birth. Somehow she disclosed the abuse by talking about it in the third person (‘that was my way of dealing’).
The hospital handled the situation well. ‘They made me have sexual assault counselling because they didn’t want me to shut down during the birth. So I did that.’ Even though the counsellor was ‘fantastic’, she ‘still didn’t get to the root of my problems because I was still speaking as if I was the third person’.
Kirralee experienced post-natal depression after the births of all her children, and she became suicidal. For many years she was prescribed anti-depressants, but since coming off them has felt like ‘my head is clear’. The abuse has impacted upon her intimate relationship with her husband, but he is very understanding.
Going to the gym regularly helps her manage her emotional state. ‘My form of counselling is the gym at the moment. It’s the only way I can get the endorphins running without having to have the medication. I haven’t been wanting to talk to anyone. I feel ashamed. I don’t want people knowing because I don’t want them to think, “Oh she can’t be around my children” or “I don’t want her around in my life”. I don’t want them to judge me because of what’s happened to me.’
Most of her siblings ‘haven’t fared well at all’ and are still heavily impacted upon by their childhood experiences, living with mental health, drug, and alcohol issues. She is angry that there was not better supervision at the children’s home to protect them from this abuse. Being a good mum is the most important thing to Kirralee, and she feels proud that despite the trauma she has a successful relationship and wonderful children.
Still, she wonders what became of Derek. ‘I quite often think about where he is now. If he’s still alive, if he’s in jail. You know, a boy at the age of 10 doing that to a little child, he’s obviously been abused himself.’