Rosemarie's story

Rosemarie was a newborn baby when she was taken from her 15-year-old Aboriginal mother and adopted by a Catholic family in regional Victoria. ‘She didn’t sign any papers and she was actually breastfeeding me. And she went up there one night to feed me and I was gone.’

Rosemarie described her early life with her adoptive parents and their two other adopted children as ‘pretty good. Mum and Dad were pretty strict. Pretty much all was good until I was about 12’.

While Rosemarie was an ‘average’ student who ‘could do better’, she was frequently in trouble for playing up at school while her brother and sister were both high performers. ‘I thought I was a pretty normal kid … just going out.’

At 12 years old, after attending a local cricket match in the mid-1970s, Rosemarie was raped by a stranger. ‘I was just going from my place to the cricket ground on a Sunday afternoon. I cut through the church yard, always did. And there was someone in the church yard. I ended up pregnant after that.’

Rosemarie never told her parents she was raped. ‘Told them I fell off my horse. Back was all grazed and everything …

‘I didn’t want to get into trouble … Once my mother found out that I was pregnant, yeah it was my fault apparently … I had an abortion … They organised it all, I had no choice in the matter. Not that I wanted a baby at that age … They stopped going to church. Like I was in the wrong.’

After arranging for her pregnancy to be terminated, Rosemarie’s parents placed her in a youth respite hostel. Although staying at the hostel was voluntary, Rosemarie frequently ran away. ‘I was looking for something, I don’t know what.’

At one brief stage during her time at the hostel, Rosemarie was fostered out to Virginia Dwyer and her husband Michael, who sexually assaulted her while she was in their care. ‘He was only young. Had a little girl. He looked old to me at the time but he was probably only about 25 to 30 … He was a primary school teacher. Actually he became principal not long after that’, she said.

‘I was there for the two weeks. The middle weekend Virginia had to go to Melbourne for some reason, so she was away on the Friday and Saturday night. And everything was normal, had my shower, went to go to bed, he was in my bed. Told me to get into bed with him, so I did. Because he was an adult and he told me to, basically. And then that happened again the next night. And then his wife came home and I just sort of wanted to get out of there.’

Rosemarie never returned to the Dwyers after this incident and never disclosed the abuse because ‘I just thought I was wrong …

‘I just didn’t tell anyone. ’Cause after my parents told me how bad I was I thought what’s the point in telling anyone.’

Rosemarie returned to the hostel but because she repeatedly ran away she was sent to a youth training facility at 15. At this facility she was befriended by an employee named Dennis. Dennis, who was 36 years old at the time, would talk to Rosemarie and give her lollies. When Rosemarie was released from care at 16, she moved in with Dennis for about eight months and became pregnant.

Rosemarie’s relationship with Dennis did not last. By the time she was 28 she had been married twice to abusive husbands and had three children. She made contact with her birth mother and discovered she had seven siblings.

Rosemarie became a heroin addict from the age of 20 and has been charged with a number of offences. She has been remanded 11 times but fortunately has never been convicted.

When she was in her mid-30s Rosemarie made the decision to stop using heroin. ‘I got onto the methadone programme because I just didn’t want to do it anymore. And just came off that gradually.’

Throughout her life Rosemarie never felt that she could talk to anyone about what she had been through as a child. Her relationship with her children is ‘distant’, and the intergenerational effects of her abuse have resulted in them being addicted to methamphetamine. Her daughter has had her children removed from her and she recently discovered two of these children were abused while in foster care.

Rosemarie was prescribed depression and anxiety medication for years but was only recently diagnosed with bipolar. ‘I have found out since I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar, and put on medication. And I just feel quite normal now.’ She is in a new relationship, and her partner knows about her history of abuse and is supportive.

Rosemarie never reported the abuse she suffered but has recently connected with an experienced compensation lawyer and believes she is ready to do so. ‘I’d like him to be accountable.’

Despite a lifetime of trauma, Rosemarie is experiencing a period of stability and feels optimistic about the future. She also has a good relationship with her birth mother, who is in her late 80s.

‘It took me 50 years to get there. The next 50 years gotta be better.’

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