Raquel's story

Raquel’s mother was a member of the Stolen Generations, and ‘her worst fear was us going away. Going through the same’. Even so, Raquel and her younger siblings were removed when she was 12 because of her mother’s drinking. ‘I might have been young at the time, but I knew I didn’t want to leave my mum.’

It was the early 1980s, and the children were placed at a Catholic Aboriginal children’s home in suburban Brisbane. They were housed with families in individual cottages; the people Raquel lived with were ‘cruel pigs’.

‘I used to get whipped with a bamboo stick which really stung. The son would piss on me and they would make us drink piss ... I witnessed a lot of things there too. I was too scared to tell anyone and you just had nowhere to go.’

Raquel was also sexually abused in this home by a boy a couple of years older. ‘He forced me to do things to him. It was always dark and I did not like him touching me ... I couldn’t get away from him, or any of them, because I was really little for my age.

‘When I was locked in the cupboard by the houseparents, the big boy would sometimes get in the cupboard with me and molest me. This went on for months, and I would take off to try escape the place and get away from them all.’

One time, a group of children was present when this boy abused her. ‘It was embarrassing. No one in the room tried to stop him.’

When Raquel was 15, she was sent to a youth detention centre. Her female cellmate was a couple of years older than her, and molested her too. ‘I was manipulated by the older girl because I was young and didn’t know what was right.’

She had one friend, Emma, ‘who looked out for me because I was the little one in there ... Emma witnessed what happened to me with the older girl. I couldn’t go and tell anyone there because they would punish me by putting me in the detention unit.’

The staff were no help. ‘Some of the workers there knew what was happening to me and they would just turn a blind eye ... Aboriginal workers were meant to check on us while we were in the home and they did bloody nothing.’

Raquel has never reported the sexual abuse to police, as she understand the kids who hurt her were victims themselves. She knows the girl who assaulted her was ‘having sex with the workers’ at the centre, and believes the boy who molested her at the home ‘could be also a victim himself ... The people who ran it were responsible’.

A while ago, Raquel received a minimal payment from a redress scheme. She did not disclose all of her experiences in her application, and the process was not really explained to her at the time.

She told the Royal Commission the money ‘didn’t mean nothing ... It was like, shut your mouth and say no more’. ‘We were told to shut up, that’s what I felt it was ... But we’ve still got to live with it.’

Homeless for more than 20 years, Raquel had chronic issues with drugs and alcohol, although she manages these better now. She has blocked out a lot of her life, and finds it hard to trust people.

However, she remains optimistic that healing is always possible, and decided, ‘I don’t want to be a bitter and angry person all my life’. Her Church has helped her a lot, and she accesses support services frequently. ‘You can’t rebuild the brokenness, but you can definitely heal and build on a heart that is broken.’

Raquel and Emma remain close today. ‘We support each other because she was also abused in another home. We have been “sisters” for 30 years and we are also strong activists against child abuse.’

After many years, Raquel was able to forgive her mother. ‘My mum, when she was still struggling for her own identity, the heartache and the hatred she had for the government, for the Stolen Generation ... And that’s like a bad disease, it can spread among the children. And leaving a child in a home after that, it just grows to a heart of stone.’

Raquel chose not to become a parent herself.

‘I have never had a child myself because of my fear that if I was to leave this world, what would happen to my child? I would not want my child to go through what I went through.’

However, she acts as ‘aunty mum’ and ‘nanna’ to her nieces and nephews, and other kids she knows. ‘I didn’t have any children, but I’ve reared up a lot.’ She tries to be the kind of adult that she needed when she was small, who can recognise when kids are being abused and help them.

She would like to see greater services and support for survivors of child sexual abuse. ‘You can’t go back there, turn it around. You can’t. And that’s just part of my journey. But the healing process needs more support along the way. We just don’t need to be hurt and dumped. That’s what happened to our lives all the time, as children ...

‘A child can hate, hate, hate, but when they’re 60 and still hating, there are a lot of reasons for us to move on them actions, to do something. We’ve had plenty of time to do it, the government had plenty of time to do it.’

Raquel now has a counselling qualification (and has learned ‘from the counsellors who failed me’ too). Her personal knowledge influences and informs her work, and her work assists her own healing.

‘I get the love and admiration from counselling children and adults who have the same lived experience as I have. It helps me, and I get a better understanding of problem-solving what abuse is today.’

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