Lori was born in New South Wales in the mid-1970s and made a state ward at the age of one. She told the Commissioner that by the time she was 16 she had lived in over 30 different foster and children’s homes.
The first incident of sexual abuse happened while she was in the care of foster parents Jill and Ian Morris. The perpetrator was their 18-year-old son. Lori doesn’t remember the details of what happened but she does remember Jill Morris taking her to the doctor. Shortly after that she was moved to another home.
Later in life Lori retrieved her file from welfare. In it she found some old photos.
‘There was like a before shot of before I went to the Morris house and then there was like an after shot of after being in the placement ... The first one my hair’s all messed up and I’ve got the dressing gown on, so obviously I’ve just gotten out of bed, but the smile on my face is – I’m laughing and I look happy, l look innocent. In my second one my hair’s all chopped and it’s combed down nicely and it looks very constrained sort of and there’s no – it’s just different.’
After the Morrises, Lori was sent to live with the Patton family. At age six or seven she was sexually abused by one of the Patton’s other foster children, a teenage boy. Lori was eventually removed from this home as well. She spent the next few years bouncing between other foster homes, group homes and her father’s place. Lori’s favourite by far were the group homes.
‘We’d have like 30 kids living with us and we had youth workers doing their shift work and stuff like that. That was probably the best experience of my life, being in some of those homes, because there were other children there like me and I wasn’t trying to fit into someone else’s family.’
By contrast, Lori didn’t feel safe living with her dad because he was a volatile alcoholic who physically and sexually abused her. She remembered one day when she was out fixing fences with him and her uncle.
‘I was about 10. And my uncle had to go back up to the house to get something so I was left there with my dad. I can still remember the fear. And my dad did try to touch me and I sort of moved away from him and said that if he did that I would tell somebody. He just sort of laughed and shook his head. Then it was back to normal.’
Two years later, Lori did ‘tell somebody’. She spoke to her caseworker, who set up a meeting with Lori’s father and asked her to confirm the issue in front of him. Lori was so scared she dropped the whole thing. At the end of the meeting everybody ‘walked out as if nothing had happened’.
At 16, just after her first child was born, Lori told her mother what her father had done to her. They went to the police station where Lori made a statement about her dad but didn’t mention any of the abuse she suffered at the foster homes.
Lori’s father wasn’t charged and the police never explained why. It’s something that troubles her to this day. ‘I know that my dad had a problem and I wasn’t the only one … I have this urgency feeling that I should have done something a little bit more.’
Lori’s baby was eventually taken away from her by welfare. She later had several more children, two of whom were taken away ‘because of my drug use’. Lori worked hard to clean up her life but found that her lack of skills and education always held her back.
‘I’ve never been able to get a job. I’ve never really tried to sort of get a job because I’ve got nothing to show for my education at all … I never got a high school education. And I’ve tried to do courses and stuff like that but I get so far, could be two weeks from the finishing date and I just give up. And I’ve done that a few times. I don’t know why.’
Still, Lori has continued to work hard over the years and is now caring for her three youngest children. Her focus is on the future.
‘I am solely responsible for myself and my life and my decisions and it’s up to me to make it better from now on. I can’t keep on blaming my past for today, or keep on blaming DOCS [Department of Community Services] for all the stupid mistakes that they did, because that’s just going to get me angry and upset and resentful and stuff like that. And I can’t do that because I’ve got my kids that I have to look after and it’s no way to live my life.’