Pippa, who grew up in Victoria in the 1960s, was sexually abused from the age of eight by her father. He was a hard drinker who was physically violent as well. She’s pretty sure her mum knew about the sexual abuse but chose not to deal with it because it was just too hard.
‘He’s your father,’ her mum said to Pippa after she tried to tell her. ‘He wouldn’t do anything wrong.’ She also discouraged Pippa from ringing the police about her dad’s physical violence because it would just make him worse. ‘I was asking just about every family member who came to visit, “Can I come and live at your place?”’
Pippa shoplifted some cheap slippers when she was 12. From this one episode, police concluded that she was now likely to ‘lapse into a life of crime’. So Pippa was made a ward of the state – a decision that may have been influenced by her mother telling police she was ‘at her wits’ end’ with Pippa.
Pippa’s file states that she is a proven liar, because her mother also told the police ‘if she talks about incest, don’t believe her’.
So from the age of 12 to nearly 18, Pippa had to live in different children’s homes, some of them maximum security centres, ‘for something that never happened’. Pippa is angry that for years her father continued to sexually abuse her when she was sent home for holidays and weekends. But no one in any of the homes she lived in, or any of her social workers, ever picked up on it.
‘They should have either ensured that it stopped or that the right people knew about it or that I didn’t go back. But that didn’t happen.’
Did she disclose to welfare workers?
‘I tried to build up to it … So I was talking about the domestic violence … They couldn’t deal with that so I didn’t feel that they could handle anything even worse than that.’
Fortunately, Pippa wasn’t abused in any of the homes. She defended herself pretty well. ‘I would take so much and then I’d lash out.’
Her father’s sexual abuse stopped when he realised she had started menstruating. ‘Or maybe I was suddenly too old for him, I don’t know.’
While Pippa was only nine and still living at home, she went to a holiday activities program run by a local high school. She was raped multiple times by the school cleaner, who had befriended some of the kids. Pippa remembers telling the police that what the cleaner did to her was no different to what her father did. Pippa had a physical examination and after it the police said there was not enough evidence for them to do anything.
When Pippa was just shy of 18, her social worker retired. The department decided there was no need to get her another one, because she’d be leaving care soon anyway. ‘Yet again I was abandoned by my parent.’ She kept going back home because she had nowhere else to go, but it was never any better than before.
Pippa and her mother have been getting on better since she gave up expecting her mother to acknowledge her father’s sexual abuse but Pippa said that as a result of her experiences she loses trust in people very easily. She’s also never been able to work consistently due to a lack of education while she was in care. She’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is on medication for depression and anxiety.
Pippa is now recovering from major surgery, which has helped relieve her depression. She is determined that this year will be the year she starts to get herself a proper education.
Her counsellor told the Commissioner that Pippa’s been working hard to improve her wellbeing. She read something that Pippa had written in her notes. ‘Once made a ward, I should have been safe and not sent back to abuse.’
So what did Pippa recommend to the Commission? ‘If kids come in and they’re frightened, somebody should actually take some time, however long it takes, to talk with them and see if they have something to say. Especially if there’s one parent there saying “Don’t listen, this person’s a liar”.’