Melanie was adopted at birth in 1968. Her adoptive mother was a manipulative and cruel woman who treated Melanie especially badly because she was the only girl in a large family of adopted kids and the couple’s own children.
‘If I had been a boy, I reckon she would have taken to me.’
Melanie was routinely threatened, and abused verbally and physically by her adoptive mother. Her adoptive father was often absent due to work and supported his wife when he was at home.
‘She was just a wicked lady. He believed all her lies about me, so he used to bash the shit out of me.’
When she was about five, Melanie was placed in a government-run psychiatric centre for children in Victoria. This was one of many centres and homes that Melanie attended. Her life became a regular back and forth from the adoptive parents’ home to state programs for behaviourally difficult children.
Anger became the way she responded to the world. ‘There’s a thing called “fight or flight” – well, I fought. “When in doubt, punch them out."
‘I know a lot of kids go out of their way to seek attention because any attention, even if it’s bad, is good attention in their eyes. Which is what I felt for a long time … every time I broke a staff member’s nose or kicked one … I got a bit of attention. It was negative attention but it was attention.’
When she was about six, her uncle – her adoptive mother’s brother – began to sexually abuse her. When Melanie told her mother she was not believed.
‘Called me a liar, told me to get outside – and, “You’re grounded”.’
One of Melanie’s foster brothers also sexually abused her and another attempted to. Melanie never felt safe in the home and her weekend visits to the family always ended with her wanting to go back to the centre. There were no visits from child services and Melanie felt that she couldn’t report her abuse.
‘There’s no point. The repercussions only come back on you, not on them.’
She was also frequently sexually abused in the centres, mainly by night staff.
‘Day staff were a bit more shiftier. If I behaved myself for 48 hours, I was allowed to go up to the milk bar. But if a male screw, for want of a better word, was to escort me up to the milk bar, I wouldn’t go. Trust them zero.’
Melanie never tried to escape – ‘And go where?’ Instead, she ‘went to school every day just to get away’.
When she was 16, Melanie ‘took the system on’.
‘I beat them because I was sick of them beating me. They [the welfare agencies] just dropped me … they had no choice. They had nothing on me. There was no charges, there was no nothing. I just wanted out of there because I was sick of being beaten, sick of being rooted, sick of being drugged up, fucked up and … you know, like you fall asleep in one chair and you wake up in another room? That. And you’re all sore.’
With no real support however, this meant that Melanie began living on the streets. When she was still only 16, she was sent to an adult prison for two months. There she was brutally raped by three staff, suffering injuries that took weeks to heal. A social worker begged Melanie to reveal her attackers but she refused. She felt it would just mean she would become a target for the staff at large.
Melanie has experienced a lifetime of institutionalised abuse and trauma, and feels disconnected from her family and from society more generally.
‘All I really wanted and I will never get it … was an apology. They refuse to apologise even when there’s a Royal Commission, and they knew this was going to come and bite them in the arse
'They refuse to give me an apology but they're more than happy to put their hand in their pocket. But I’m not here to money grab … I’m just tired of battling the system.
'I’m still battling the system. I’m tired of everything. I’m tired of watching my back … I’m tired of “Who's coming into my life next? What’s this arsehole want from me?”
'I don’t trust, I don’t like … and I’m fucking gutted. Every time I close my eyes, I see some motherfucker that’s done the wrong thing who I can’t kill. I refuse to kill anymore. I refuse to do what the system’s turned me into – “a monstrous angry little bastard” – and I’m fucking tired of it.’
Melanie receives support from One Place and has been able to access some of her welfare records. But because she has been in so many institutions, the standard of the record keeping varies dramatically. Many files have also been heavily redacted.
‘The contents of wherever they’re blacked out, I remember it like yesterday.’
Melanie spoke to the Commission because she wants to help prevent child abuse.
‘I’ve always wanted to help every little kid that’s been hurt or bashed or neglected … At the end of the day, if I can help one person … because prevention is better than the cure. I just want to help people.’