‘I ran away from home. And that’s all I ever did in my whole life. I never did anything criminal. I never did anything wrong.’
It was the early 1980s and Rebecca was a 14-year-old ‘timid little mouse’ when she was admitted to a Victorian youth detention centre. Police had recommended she go to a foster placement but there were no suitable carers available, so the centre was the only option.
Welfare had been heavily involved with the family for almost a decade, after it was discovered that one of Rebecca’s siblings had been raped by their father. The matter was investigated by police, but it could not be proven so her father stayed in the home. He continued sexually abusing some of the kids and being ‘mentally and physically abusive to me’.
‘We really were dragged up – we were far from being raised. I know that sounds awful but it’s true ... I don’t see my mother at all, haven’t seen her for years’.
Rebecca had already spent time in residential care after running away a year or two earlier, and had been sent back home to her family even though she didn’t want to go. Her sister’s friend had come to stay with them, sharing Rebecca’s bedroom. This woman was in her early 20s, and ‘groomed me so she could have sex with me’. Eventually she began sexually abusing Rebecca.
When Rebecca ended up in the training centre she was still in contact with this woman – believing she was in an appropriate, loving relationship and was genuinely cared for. The friend bought her jewellery, sent her money and wrote love letters written in code, which she now realises was to hide the sexual nature of the relationship.
A guard at the centre intercepted one of the letters, and asked Rebecca if they were sleeping together. She denied it at first, but the guard pushed her ‘and then got my face and just slammed it into the wall’ so ‘I said, “Yes”.’ The guard ‘made a really big deal out of it’ but there was nothing about the letter noted in her file.
Despite this the woman was allowed to accompany Rebecca on an excursion with other residents – and during this time had sex with her twice in the toilets. After this they had no further contact for some years. Rebecca did not tell anyone what had happened on the excursion.
The girls at the centre would be made to line up naked to shower, and then were doused with chemicals that burned their scalps, something which Rebecca found frightening and humiliating.
On three occasions one of the male staff sexually abused her when she was placed into a low security unit. The first time, she was cleaning the sinks in the bathrooms when he came up from behind and rubbed his erection against her.
The second time, he made Rebecca perform oral sex on him in the showers. ‘I was horrified. I’d never done anything like that in my life.
In the third instance he ‘came and got me out of my cell at night’ and raped her.
Rebecca cannot remember the man’s name, and believes she must have blocked it out. He had threatened that she would be moved to maximum security if she reported the abuse. Having narrowly escaped being raped with a broom handle by other inmates previously, she was terrified of being sent there, so did not say anything.
To get out of the centre Rebecca lied and said she would be able to return to her family. After being released at 16 she went to live in a share house with people who used drugs heavily. She didn’t take any drugs at the time, but did drink alcohol.
She soon became pregnant. ‘My God, I had a baby when I was a child. I should have been at school doing my VCE.’ Later, as a teenager, her son became involved in drugs and went into residential care. He had a child who Rebecca now cares for.
Rebecca is bipolar and lives with a panic disorder and depression. ‘It’s not fun. I have medication for all of those things, so it sort of keeps me on an even keel, but my chemicals just will not stay level without tablets’.
In her 30s she attempted suicide a couple of times, and continues to experience nightmares and flashbacks of the abuse. Over the years she has engaged with counselling and psychiatric services, as well as receiving support from a sexual assault organisation.
A few years ago Rebecca reported the sexual abuse by her sister’s friend to police, as she had concerns about her having access to another young girl. The police interviewed the woman, but there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges.
She has not reported the guard’s abuse as she cannot recall his name or any identifying features.
Recently Rebecca has been in contact with lawyers about making a compensation claim. While money ‘is not going to change what happened’, it would assist with living expenses and paying bills.
Even if the claim comes to nothing, she’s pleased that someone is looking into it, and trying to get some justice for her. ‘I’ve always felt there’s no justice, and there’s not going to be any justice.’