Mia was born three months premature with a physical impairment in the late 1960s. Her father had died in a car accident and her mother, unable to manage the responsibilities of raising a child, immediately put her up for adoption. Due to her complex care needs, Mia was assessed as ‘not suitable for adoption’ so instead, at three-and-a-half months was discharged from hospital and made a ward of the state.
Before she was three, Mia was placed with a boarding institute for people with disabilities. A little later, Mia met her holiday host parents, the Finchs who she would spend weekends and holidays with. Both were in their 60s.
‘Mr Finch started sexually abusing me from the time I started visiting them … Mr Finch would have baths with me, and then come and sleep with me in my bed or have me sleep in their bed.
‘I remember when I was around four or five that Mr Finch told me his wife’s vagina was too small to penetrate, and so that’s why he did stuff with me, and that they couldn’t have children. When he fondled me in the bath and got me to fondle him, he would tell me not to tell anyone, and that this was okay to do with him but not with anybody else or other boys.’
While living with the Finches different caseworkers would visit approximately every three months, unconcerned that Mrs Finch was not always present.
‘He [Finch] would say that Mrs Finch had taken a walk or was visiting friends. That was usually she’d take a walk ,and forget where she lived and some days she’d go missing for three days.’ Mrs Finch appeared to suffer from dementia.
Finch told Mia that he had a German background and would be put into a concentration camp if there was another war, but that he would protect her. ‘I loved the Finches because I thought they were keeping me safe.
‘Mr Finch would say that what he was doing was part of a loving family. He would tell me that he was protecting me; he indicated that the sexual behaviour was a positive thing, and he told me not to let other people do it to me or I would be taken away.’
Mia believes Mrs Finch was not aware of the abuse, even when it was happening in the same bed she slept in. ‘He had no qualms. He would abuse me while she was still in the bed next to me ... Because the dementia was kicking in, even if she did find out something I don’t think she would’ve understood.’
When Mia first got her period, Finch taught her about sanitary products and even helped her insert tampons. ‘He thought that was pretty cool.’
Finch would abuse her less as she got older but would still say it was ‘our thing’. He would fondle her as he read inappropriate novels to her in bed. Mia would ask Finch to help with her high school homework, and he would do this in exchange for sexual favours.
From her early teens, Mia began engaging in risky behaviour, often running away to the city and living on the streets for several days at a time. On one occasion she was drugged and raped. ‘I just thought it was my fault.’
In her mid teens, Mia was referred to a hostel where she stayed until she completed her schooling. In a case review at the time, it was noted that she continued to place herself in vulnerable situations and exhibit ‘acting out sexual behaviours’. Mia was never referred to a psychologist or counsellor, but was instead verbally abused by the hostel staff who would call her a ‘slut’.
Mia experienced guilt over leaving the Finches and continued to visit them after she was no longer a ward of the state. Mrs Finch eventually suffered a stroke and died. Finch moved into a home but insisted Mia visit him in his room where he would always ask her to sit on his bed.
‘It just gave me the creeps, but again out of guilt I felt like I still had to see him.’ Finch died a year later. Mia attended both funerals but privately celebrated by getting drunk when Finch died.
Mia married in her early 20s and had two children, but this relationship was abusive, culminating in Mia’s husband raping her during a period of separation. Mia was diagnosed with severe depression and has been taking antidepressants ever since.
As she approached her 30s, Mia began experiencing flashbacks after a friend of the Finches called her to admit that the abuse had been witnessed one on occasion.
‘So … [they] knew about it. Why the hell didn’t anyone do anything about it? … I just got the impression it was the done thing, and you didn’t talk about it and everyone did it.’
For several years Mia has been receiving support from a counsellor who works for the Centre Against Sexual Assault. She has also developed a healthy relationship with a new partner who has ‘had to accept that I do not want to have sex’. Mia still occasionally abuses alcohol and experiences flashbacks.
Recently Mia obtained her case file through the Freedom of Information Act. It revealed there had been unsuccessful attempts to remove her from the Finches. Mia strongly believes that the Finches should have been more thoroughly scrutinised as host parents, and there should have been more consistency with caseworkers so she could have felt comfortable talking to them.
‘As a child I felt like I was just a number. The workers would sometimes get my name wrong.’
Mia has been speaking with a compensation lawyer who is confident she has a case. While Mia would have liked to see Finch pay for what he did, she accepts this cannot happen. However, she wants to continue to receive counselling, as well as an acknowledgment and apology from the disability support provider for putting her in the Finchs’ care.
‘I do not want to be a victim. I want to be a survivor.’