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Rachel Jennifer's story

As a three-year old child in far north Queensland during the early 1970s, Rachel was often left alone with her siblings to fend for themselves. When somebody realised the children were on their own, authorities came and removed them – ‘we had no idea what was going on ... It was very scary’.

They were taken to a children’s home and ‘were waiting for someone to collect us’, before being fostered out to the Bradman family. They were treated differently to the Bradman’s own children, who were white. ‘We were locked in a dark room, never to be seen outside. We used to look out the window ... We weren’t allowed to play outside. We weren’t allowed to be seen.’

At meal times the family ‘would be all sitting around the table ... We’d be underneath the table picking up scraps. They wouldn’t feed us. We were like animals, really’. Rachel doesn’t remember the Department of Child Safety ever visiting.

Their next foster placement was with the Marriots. Mrs Marriot was a good woman, and Rachel felt she was truly loved by her. However the three generations of men in the family – grandfather, father, and adult son – all sexually abused her and her sister. This would happen in the bedroom she and her siblings shared. ‘My brother even said, “I seen them coming. But what could I do? I was a child myself”.’

As the abuse would happen at night, Rachel would be extremely tired and often fall asleep in class during the day, and she fell behind in lessons. Because of this, she was put in a special class. ‘They thought I was just slow. It was because I was getting lack of sleep – I was frightened to sleep at night.’

Rachel could never tell Mrs Marriot about the abuse. When ‘the welfare’ came to visit the house the entire family would sit in the same room, and the children weren’t spoken to alone. This meant there was no opportunity for Rachel to tell the workers about what the men were doing. The abuse had stopped by the time she was 12, as the older men died and her foster brother left home.

With her siblings gone, she was left alone in the house with Mrs Marriot, and they remained close until her foster mother’s death. She was soon in a relationship, ‘and then you know, was pregnant at 15 ... I was looking for love’. The department ‘just said abortion, but it never happened’.

Rachel gave birth to a daughter. ‘I was a young girl. I couldn’t look after her, so I gave her to her aunt. She said, “I’ll look after her and grow her for you”, ‘cause I didn’t know what life was about at that age.’

After this, ‘I was just loose. I just went everywhere, and just didn’t care. Because everything had already happened to me’. As an adult Rachel had several more children. She tried to block out the abuse in order to get on with her life, but she still experiences flashbacks and nightmares.

She spoke to her sister about the abuse. ‘We talk about it and we cry. Why did it ever happen to us?’ A decade before speaking to the Royal Commission she’d told a good friend, who accompanied Rachel when she spoke with the Commissioner.

She hasn’t told her children, however, because ‘it’s a shame thing’.

‘They’re very clingy to me, they’re always around and with the grandchildren. I try and make it better for them, because I’ve missed out on my childhood. I try and give the best I can give them. They are spoilt.’

Rachel educates her grandchildren about preventing and reporting sexual abuse. ‘We teach them, you don’t touch, anyone touch you there it’s wrong. So we do all that with our kids, me and my daughters we do talk about that.’

As an adult Rachel rang the department to tell them what happened to her and her sister in care. ‘I told them how I felt, ‘cause it was haunting me ... I said, “Do youse realise what we went through? You know, you put us there and we suffered”. I suffered, my sister suffered ... No-one listened to what I had to say.’

Having limited literacy Rachel was unable to write down the story of her experiences in care when she made a claim to the state redress scheme, and ‘I didn’t want anyone to help me, you know like my partner or anything, I was too ashamed’.

Consequently, she did not disclose the sexual abuse, and was only awarded the minimum amount of compensation. ‘I tried to write it but I couldn’t, and I didn’t want anyone else to see it, so I didn’t do it.’

Rachel is currently linked in with a free legal service regarding compensation, but doesn’t think an apology from the department would mean much when the people directly responsible are no longer there. ‘I can’t see how the department can give me an apology when it’s not them.’ She is also unsure about looking at her welfare file, telling the Commissioner, ‘I’d like to, but then I’m thinking that’s damaging. It’s a lot of history’.

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