Mikaela's story

At three months of age, Mikaela was tested for venereal disease. She doesn’t know now what circumstances led to the testing and only learnt it had been carried out because there were a few brief notes in the welfare file that she later accessed as an adult.

From birth, Mikaela had been in some kind of ‘sponsor care’ arrangement organised by the New South Wales Government after her mother, then an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital, was deemed unable to care for her.

For 13 months, Mikaela then lived in a government orphanage in Sydney and believes, during that time, she was sexually abused. After this she was placed with a foster family where she was physically and emotionally abused by her foster parents and sexually abused by three of their male friends.

At one stage Mikaela told her foster parents about the sexual abuse but they didn’t believe her, and she was ‘shoved under a cold shower’ and locked in her room.

In the late 1970s, when she was about 10 years old, Mikaela was placed in a Queensland children’s home. After being sexually abused there by several staff members she started running away and as a consequence ended up ‘on and off’ in a youth detention facility where there was more abuse.

In all, Mikaela was sexually abused as a child under six different government care arrangements in New South Wales and Queensland, including in a psychiatric hospital where she lived with both children and adults and was given anti-psychotic tablets. ‘I don’t even know what I was on them for.’

From the age of 14, Mikaela lived for three years with a violent man who on several occasions found out she was pregnant and beat her until she miscarried.

She married another man who was also violent, and eventually lost custody of the children she’d had with him.

For more than three decades Mikaela lived in situations of violence and trauma. In the early 2000s she met her now-husband, Dave, who was the first person she told about the sexual abuse.

‘I got told that if I told anyone, that either no one would believe me, or that I’d be killed’, Mikaela said.

In recent years, Mikaela reconnected with several of her children but discovered they hadn’t been cared for throughout their younger years. ‘They were sexually, physically and mentally abused in foster homes they were in, you know, and it just hurts.’

Mikaela believes that improvements need to be made to the screening of potential foster parents. ‘They take children away from parents … who love and care for their children and who would never hurt their children, and the ones that are being hurt are left to either suffer for the rest of their lives or to die, you know, whether it be by suicide or by the parents’ or whoever else’s hands. And I don’t think that’s fair.’

She still has frequent flashbacks to her own abuse and said it ‘scares me each and every day’. She’s attempted suicide several times and now has severe physical health problems that require a high level of care.

Dave told the Commissioner that Mikaela’s difficulties and mistrust were ‘really stressful’ for their relationship. He knew how little she trusted others and this was why meeting members of a Forgotten Australians support group had been helpful for them both.

‘It was the first time she’d had real confirmation that someone else had been through the same kind of thing’, Dave said. ‘Prior to that it was always doubting whether anyone believed her, and a hell of a lot of doubt. Just the acknowledgement made a whole world of difference.’

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