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Ruth May's story

Ruth was placed into foster care in Western Australia in the mid-1980s, when she was one. ‘It wasn’t the case that [my mother] didn’t want me … just the factors of what [my father] had done to her. So I know it was safety concerns and all that sort of stuff.’ She returned to live with her mother when she was five and stayed until she went into the foster care system in South Australia when she was 12.

Ruth told the Commissioner that during one period of 12 months, she was placed in dozens of different foster homes. ‘They said I was problematic. I was probably acting out. Like, they’re meant to give you care. It doesn’t matter how problematic you can be … I was in so many homes and because of being passed around … I felt a sense of no one wanted me and abandonment. And I felt like no one listened to me.’

Ruth recalls that ‘some sexual stuff happened … it did start quite young and that was in Western Australia and that was at some care cottage’.

Ruth was raped just after her 13th birthday, by a cousin’s boyfriend while she was in care in South Australia. ‘I reported it to the police and I was in that police station forever … felt like forever, anyway. I think it was something about 13 hours and I just remember thinking how horrible it was … I was a virgin till that event.’ Although the police took her clothes and she went to the hospital for tests, Ruth doesn’t recall if charges were laid.

‘After all this I started meth. I was only 13 when I started meth. I didn’t even know what drugs were … I hadn’t even done sex education and I was already on drugs.’

Ruth told the Commissioner that she was sexually abused by one of her foster carers at 14, and that she was working in a bar as a stripper when she was 15. ‘And that was state care, and they knew about that because I read that in the file.’

After the rape when she was 13, Ruth was sent to a foster home and ‘there were sexual assaults in that home. I became, I guess, a bit promiscuous because of that. I sold myself off cheap, I guess. Not selling myself in the way of being a whore or something, but I just gave it away, like it didn’t mean anything to me anymore’. Ruth told the Commissioner, ‘I can say about 90 per cent of the places that I was in, there was some sort of sexual activity, which I’ve never really thought about … till now. That’s really bad’.

As an adult, Ruth has struggled with drug abuse and mental health issues, and has been blacklisted from the assisted housing list because of her current conviction for manufacturing methamphetamines in the government house in which she was living.

Ruth is making a claim for compensation for the abuse she experienced while in foster care and sees this as the only way she might be able to get a home of her own. ‘When you have a home you can then provide yourself stability, and stability is a big factor for you being able to engage in seeking proper treatment. I just want something that’s mine.’

Because of her childhood experiences, Ruth has struggled to maintain relationships.

‘I’ve never really had any meaningful relationships … I don’t know how to recognise a meaningful relationship and I’ll sabotage it before it gets to anything.’

Ruth believes that she needs counselling because ‘it’s not just the problems of my childhood. Like, I’ve had recent traumatic events, like finding my mum dead and being shot at, and marrying a psychopath and then having my daughter taken from me and then … it’s just a fucking … I just feel like I can’t get any help anywhere and I’m sick of talking … I’m sick of explaining over and over and over … you get so tired of hearing your own story and not getting anywhere’.

Ruth has attempted suicide a number of times, but has stopped herself because, ‘I’m a survivor. I’ve gone through hell and back … every time I tried to kill myself out there … I was in the park and that was a big thing, like “What the fuck? Do you want a kid to find you this way, Ruth?” So … and I don’t want to do it to my kids’.

Ruth believes she suffered both sexual and psychological abuse during her years in foster care and blames the Department for Child Protection for much of the latter. ‘What about psychological … They don’t see. I don’t think psychological abuse is even recognised as by far the worst form of abuse and I think it needs to be publicised more that it’s not okay.’

Ruth told the Commissioner that ‘there needs to be better plans put in place for women especially, being that I’d say 99 per cent of the population here have gone through some sort of sexual abuse, some sort of domestic violence … A lot of us are [in jail] because of men and poor choices’.

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