‘I’m 365 days sober today. Now I’m ready to open that bottle, not for a drink but the secrets that are all in there. And I’ve hid them for 32 years of my life in that bottle … and it’s open now … I can finally release all the hurt and pain that I had in that bottle of alcohol, and that the homes have done to me.’
Maja told the Commissioner, ‘At the age of seven I was taken away by police officers … and taken to a [children’s home]’.
Maja and her brother and sister were taken from their parents due to domestic violence. She was separated from her siblings and for the next six years didn’t know where they were.
Maja was in the first of two children’s homes in Victoria for nine months in the late 1960s. While there she was sexually abused by a female staff member, who said to her, ‘It’s okay Maja, you don’t have to worry. I’ll look after you’.
Maja ‘didn’t understand what she meant by having to look after me. I felt like with her comfort and cuddling me … and in other areas of my body I felt that she was, you know, there to look after me, and I just silenced everything. I wanted to … I had to shut myself down. I don’t know how I did it, but I shut myself down and remained quiet throughout’.
After nine months Maja was sent to another home, which was a little better than the first, but didn’t realise that her siblings were also there. As adults now, they have great difficulty relating to each other.
After six years in the homes, the children were returned to their mother’s care. Maja was a very quiet girl at school and didn’t have many friends. Once she left school she began meeting a lot of people who were ‘on the wrong side of the road and I ended up being a heroin addict, a speed addict, a marijuana addict, a benzos addict … You name it, I’ve had it … I can’t believe I’m still here to this day. My last final abuse was alcoholism’.
Maja told the Commissioner that she feels like the children in the homes were treated like ‘just another number … We were told what to do, what to wear, what to eat. It was like I was in jail … for six years. And even though I’ve been in trouble … I’ve thought, “What the hell you know, I’m used to being in an institution. If I get in trouble with the law, it’ll be the same thing. I’m used to it. Being a robot”. Because that’s how it was back then’.
After her years in care Maja finds that as an adult, ‘I don’t tolerate … being told what to do, because I was told what to do when I was young and that’s how badly … both institutions affected me, and I’ve just honestly believed that it’s just not fair. There was no support. There was no counselling. Nobody to talk to … teach you about sex education. None of that … we were never taught any of that whatsoever’.
Maja told the Commissioner, ‘The child I was at seven … Sometimes I wish I was that little girl again but I can’t be that little girl again … but a different girl, you know what I mean. And it’s just like everything’s just been twisted … People lead you to believe this, lead you to believe that and I just think, “Well, who do I believe? Who do I trust anymore?” I don’t. I’ll be honest, the only person I trust … is my cat … because that’s what it’s done to me … I can’t trust anything or anybody. Even my own mother … The trust is gone. They took my trust away from me and that’s what’s upset me and my siblings’.
Although she has stopped drinking, Maja told the Commissioner, ‘I’ve had the occasional smoke here just to … you know … marijuana, but that’s not the answer because the pain’s still there. It’s there and it’s going to be there till the day I die. But having said that, I’m not going to let it destroy me anymore’.
Maja is in the process of applying for compensation for the abuse she suffered, ‘but it’s never going to take away what’s happened to me, because it’s happened. You know, they say to let go, and it’s hard sometimes …
‘But I’m here this day … 365 days I’m proud to say. I’m here to share my story and that’s what happened and I want it rectified. I want the social welfare department and the legal system to change dramatically before it gets worse for any other victims in this country.’