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Sabrina May's story

‘I … was told that my mum didn’t want me … That wasn’t the case at all … My mum thought that it was just another case of you know, Stolen Generation again. And now I’m going through the same thing again, because my children are now put in the system. So it’s … my mother, myself and now my kids are in the system.’

In the early 1990s, Sabrina’s father passed away on his wedding anniversary. ‘We lived in Victoria then. I would have been about two years old … and my mum was struggling a lot with that. She didn’t know how to cope’.

Sabrina’s mother began to drink to deal with the pain and grief of losing ‘the only person who knew how to fix her and picked her up’. At first, her three youngest children were looked after by family members, but in the late 1990s, when Sabrina was about seven or eight, she and her sister were placed in foster care, apparently, for a period of respite.

The sisters were sent to ‘a white family somewhere in the country … We got given a little room just off the lounge room and it just had … one single mattress on the floor and that was it’.

Sabrina didn’t understand why they were living with this family. She told the Commissioner that she would cry and say that she wanted to go back to her mum. ‘I snuck out of the room once and I heard the guy on the phone saying my mum was nothing but an alcoholic and she personally neglected myself and my sister, and that wasn’t entirely true … [She] was just going through a grief … had young kids, didn’t know how to cope.’

Sabrina and her sister were physically, emotionally, and sexually abused during their stay with this foster family.

‘We had to be smacked with a cane with our pants down in front of the other kids. They constantly laughed at us … They constantly told us, “You’re not our family. Don’t think you’re our family. We’re here to show you sort of people how family is orientated”.’

Sabrina and her sister had to sit at a separate table when they ate, and weren’t allowed to play with the foster family’s toys, or touch their things.

‘He used to put us in the bath and he used to sit there and watch us and make his two older sons sit there and watch us in the bath.’ The girls were made to bathe after the family’s children, using the same bath water. ‘They’d stand there and … laugh at us … “Look how dirty you are. Look at the water”.’

The sisters had to get dressed and go to the toilet with the doors open ‘because if we had the doors closed we were stealing things from them’. The foster parents would constantly search their room to make sure that they hadn’t taken any of the family’s belongings.

The foster father told Sabrina, ‘No one will ever, ever believe you. We’re a well-fitted family. No one will ever believe what I have done to you kids. No one will ever believe that’.

After four or five months, the sisters decided to run away. A woman in their street found them and called the police. Because they were so distraught, and refused to go back to their foster father, she took them in overnight.

The sisters were recognised by an Aboriginal family living in the neighbourhood, and this led to them being reunited with their mother, and she decided to move the family to another state.

When Sabrina was 17, she was charged with a serious crime and went to jail. After her release, she soon had two children, but she and her partner ‘just went down the wrong path’.

Sabrina believes that people turn to drugs and alcohol ‘not because it’s a poor excuse’.

‘Behind those labels are hurt and broken people that do these things to numb themselves … They use this as a self-medication to numb the pain … Behind those labels is a sore, broken story, that you just don’t tend to have the time to even listen to.’

Sabrina and her partner have both turned their lives around. ‘I went and got myself into therapist counselling through [an Aboriginal organisation]. I undertake anger management courses, loss and grief courses, and drug and alcohol courses … I’ve worked like fucking hell to get these little babies back.’

Three generations of Sabrina’s family have had their children in ‘the system’. However, Sabrina hopes to be ‘the person that breaks this cycle. I would love to be’.

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