Miriam was born in the early 1980s and placed into foster care before she was one month old. She was sexually abused at the foster home almost every night from the age of four until she ran away at 15.
The main offenders were the foster mother’s two teenage sons, who molested and raped Miriam and her siblings numerous times.
There was also a neighbour, Mr Johnstone, and his teenage children. On weekends the Johnstone teenagers would get the young kids drunk on alcohol and sexually abuse them, before taking them to Mr Johnstone who abused them himself.
Miriam said her foster mother, Ellen, knew about the abuse but didn’t care.
‘She was dodgy herself anyway. Things like, she would make us go and shower with her, she would make us go to bed naked with her, she’d make us do things.’
Miriam explained how Ellen would coach and threaten the children whenever the welfare officers came to visit.
‘They never did any surprise visits or anything so we would always know when they were coming and always – like Ellen would go out and buy us a new shirt or something so we’ll all be in the same clothes ... We’d just sit there and be quiet. We were always told not to speak, not to do anything.’
When Miriam was in Grade 9 one of her teachers began to suspect that she was being mistreated at home. He contacted the welfare department, who arranged a meeting at the school.
Miriam attended alongside the principal, the police, the child welfare officer, and Ellen. Too frightened to speak in front of her foster mother, Miriam said nothing about the abuse and the investigation stopped there.
‘I just went home and then I got a hiding.’
Sometime later Miriam ran away from the home and never went back. She has been dealing with the impact of the abuse ever since.
‘Even now I get funny if anyone’s touching me. Not even hugs, I’m not a huggy person. And I don’t like meeting new people and that used to be really hard growing up.’
Miriam has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She has suffered from health problems related to the abuse and has struggled to form lasting relationships.
‘I was raped and stuff, but my own thing, pretty much I was a virgin until my wedding night. Even with my husband I wouldn’t do anything. And I didn’t realise at the time – six months into the marriage I had to go have an operation and stuff because I couldn’t do anything.’
About a decade after the abuse ended, Miriam got involved in criminal proceedings against her abusers and civil proceedings against the state government. In the criminal trial only Ellen’s two sons were charged. Both received suspended sentences.
‘It was nothing,’ Miriam told the Commissioner. ‘It wasn’t even worth it.’
In the claim against the state Miriam received a settlement of $130,000 minus $60,000 in legal fees.
‘That was just pathetic too. Biggest waste of time.’
Miriam’s marriage ended soon after the criminal trials. By the time she reached the end of the civil proceedings she was in a new relationship, with an abusive partner who squandered most of her settlement money.
‘It got really, really bad. I had a major breakdown, the kids went to child safety and then for those two years I was just transient, trying to take off on my partner. He would hunt me down every time. It was really bad. Wasn’t even keeping up with my medications, and getting in trouble with the police and all of that.’
Around that time Miriam’s two young children reported to their nan that they were being abused by their foster carer’s son. Miriam complained to child Safety but it took a year before the complaint was confirmed and the kids returned to her care.
‘Thirty years later, now they’ve done it to my kids. My mum was Stolen Generation, it all happened to her. When is this ever going to stop? What more do they want from me? I did all these criminal charges, I did the civil thing … now I’m doing the Royal Commission and they still think they can just treat kids like this.’