Minnie had a difficult childhood. She is an Aboriginal woman from a large family, raised in Queensland in the 1970s.
‘It was an abusive family. My mum and dad they were both alcoholics and my dad did some horrible things to my mum.’
Minnie said her stepfather raped her, and when he was drunk he would punch her for not attending school. When she was 13 he sent her to a psychiatric treatment facility outside Brisbane.
Minnie described being at the centre as a horrific experience, compounded by the memory of seeing body parts and foetuses in glass jars on display there.
‘It was terrible. It was horrible. There was things that I saw that I shouldn’t have seen and many people seen it too – nurses, doctors.’
Minnie was given sedative drugs, including lithium, which made her violently sick, but staff accused her of sticking her fingers down her throat to make herself vomit. She was also given electric shock treatment.
During the time she was at the centre, Minnie was repeatedly sexually abused by male staff members.
‘The worst part was when they sedated us, we’d wake up on the floor naked and the door shut … I woke up naked on the floor and I didn’t know where in the hell I was and I didn’t understand why I had no clothes on.’
Adults and children were housed together at the facility. Some of the adult patients befriended Minnie, but she said it was not a safe place for a 13-year-old child. She tried to get her mother to release her, with no luck.
‘I’d plead with her over the phone, “Get me out of here”, and they’d say “No you can’t”. They said I wasn’t ready to be out in the society. And then they just shut me out and closed the door on me.’
Minnie was frequently placed in isolation, either for treatment or for punishment, which facilitated further sexual abuse.
‘I remember this incident, I got drunk once on the water tower and then they dragged me and I was yelling out ‘Rape! Rape!’ And then I got thrown in seclusion again, and I’d wake up with my clothes off again.’
Minnie has physical and mental health issues and said that, while she does not think that her parents gave consent for specific treatments such as the electric shock treatment, they had always known that she was unwell.
‘They knew there was something wrong with me at the age of two when I’d scratch me eyeballs until they bled. But it was all hush-hush.’
Minnie left the centre at about 17 but was readmitted in the 1990s when she had a mental breakdown following the birth of her third child. She also returned to the centre in the past few years to visit her brother, who had been admitted there. She said those visits were very hard and brought on distressing flashbacks.
She did not report the abuse to anybody at the time, but as an adult she has spoken about it, including to her children and her partner.
‘I’ve been speaking about it for years but … no one seems to care or listen. The one person that I needed was my mum and now she’s gone.’
Her mother has passed away, as has her brother, but she is comforted by her brother’s parting statement, that he would be an angel looking over her.
A few years ago Minnie was sexually assaulted and during counselling she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She said the ongoing impacts of the abuse have been significant, including alcohol and drug abuse. They have also flowed on to her relationships with her partners, children and grandchildren.
She said sometimes she pushes her partner away and he doesn’t understand. While she is currently well, she has had a long history of self-harm.
‘I’m a bad slasher. I don’t do it anymore. I’ve even gone to where I’ve cut into my heart and I didn’t die then. I got brought to life. But I wear the scars … My arms, my legs, my chest, my heart. It was because of the sexual abuse. I thought it was my fault, so I’d take it out on myself, sober or drunk.’
The thing that keeps her going is a sense of hope, ‘that one day this is all gonna be over and the nightmares are gonna be gone and I’ll have happy dreams. I hope. I do hope. ‘Cause I deserve it. I do pray to God sometimes but he doesn’t seem to help’.
Minnie’s great hope now is that what happened to her shouldn’t happen to others, and that when someone speaks up they must be listened to, that no matter how old they are they must be given a voice.
It is still distressing for Minnie to talk about her past but she feels confident that her grandchildren would be able to speak up if anything happened to them.
‘I’m [in my late 40s]. I should have done it years ago, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it back then. But it’s time to get it all off me chest and off me shoulders and live my life again.
‘I’m sorry if I carried on like a bit of a pork chop. I hope it helps others in line.’