‘There was so much abuse’, Roxanne told the Commissioner. Not just of her, but of her mother and her younger brother, by her mother’s violent partner, Wilco Davis.
Roxanne was made a ward of the state when she was a toddler in the late 1980s. Growing up in Canberra meant that her care was the responsibility of what is now ACT’s Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS).
A few years later, Roxanne and her younger brother were returned from out-of-home care to live with their mother who, by then, had separated from their father and entered into a relationship with Davis.
Davis had a history of violence, drug use and sexual abuse. He also had a child as a result of a relationship with a minor. About two years after Roxanne returned home, he began having sexual intercourse with her. This continued for about four years.
‘I didn’t even realise it was wrong until like I was in Year 7’, she said. ‘But it was really hard within myself. It made me feel very disgusting. It still does.’
Roxanne has post-traumatic stress disorder, and her memories of the time are fragmented. ‘It’s so scrambled, my head. I can just remember flashbacks, and bits and pieces’, she said. ‘A little bit’s coming back but trying to get them all together is very, very hard.’
Throughout these years she was still under the protection of CYPS which was meant to monitor her living situation. ‘I vaguely remember having people come and talk to me – it wasn’t too often, that I remember.’
When she realised the abuse was wrong, Roxanne left home. Her mum helped her carry her bags, so it couldn’t really be called running away – it was an escape. She moved in with a friend, whose father was assessed by CYPS and approved to take over her care.
‘As soon as I moved out of home, even I guess living through home, Protection wasn't really that involved, not even aware’, Roxanne said.
Sometime after moving in with her friend, she went to the police station to report Davis for sexually abusing her. ‘It didn’t go anywhere’, she said. Nothing happened, and Roxanne takes some responsibility for this.
‘I said I was okay, and I was okay. I was self-medicating with a bit of drugs and alcohol. I grew up around that, so it was what I went through, and I was fine. I was happy, I wasn’t being abused anymore.’
CYPS then sanctioned Roxanne’s move to her boyfriend Greg’s home when she was in her early teens. He was older than her, and had drug and alcohol issues that CYPS caseworkers knew about. Greg and Roxanne told CYPS they were sleeping in separate rooms, but that was a ‘big lie’.
‘Him and me were sleeping in the same bed, of course,’ she said. ‘Better investigation would have proved them otherwise’.
Roxanne’s relationship with Greg ended when she was in her early 20s. He’d been violently abusing her for years, and their several children were taken into care.
The following year, Roxanne went back to the police. ‘I was very sick from going through all the stuff I was going through’, she said. ‘I realised I had to go back and fix some things from my past … I kind of had to start at the beginning and work my way up to get everything back.’
Her experience with police this time was very different.
‘I remember not feeling so comfortable in the first one back when I was 11; I remember at the end the police officer saying, "Do you know the difference between the truth and a lie?" and the way they said it was very rude … The second time was amazing. Constable Moxon and the victim liaison officers, they were amazing.’
In the early 2010s, Davis was jailed for multiple offences against Roxanne. Why her initial complaint had not been followed up on remained a mystery. ‘I don’t know why. I still can’t understand that’, she said.
Roxanne is now pursuing civil action against CYPS.
‘It wasn’t just the sexual abuse but they kind of left me in a position with the father of my kids as well, you know. I was very young – I was 14. I should not have been able to make these decisions on my own. I didn’t have a family there that I could look up to or that could help me. They were my carers.’
She identified several institutional problems.
A routine check on Davis would have exposed him as a risk, and it wouldn’t have been hard to uncover what was going on in the family. ‘There was so much abuse, it wasn't just me … I would have investigated a whole lot more.’
Continuity of care – or lack of it – was another issue. Changing caseworkers all the time meant there was no one who really knew her or her situation.
‘Just having someone there that whole time would have been good’, she said. ‘So there are caseworkers in there that actually have an understanding, because you can't communicate with people that have no understanding, and that's important especially for people going through abuse. They need to feel they connect with the person that's helping them.’
There also needs to be frequent contact. ‘They really have to be involved completely, one hundred per cent. There is no just once a week, once a month, they have to be in there assessing, finding out who the kids are around, what they’re about. You can't see that from the one visit.’
Roxanne has received a lot of help in the past few years. She’s part of several support groups and regularly sees a psychiatrist and a psychologist. She is looking ahead now, and working to get her kids back.
‘The past is in the past, and you leave it as the past. I have made a new future for myself. I’m not in any situation like I was before. I’m a stronger woman and I got a lot of help.’