Sabrina was born in South Australia in the early 1970s and grew up in a violent family situation where she never felt safe. She told the Commissioner, ‘I used to push the wardrobe up against the door at night, climb out the window and sleep in the dog’s kennel because I was safer in the dog’s kennel than what I was in the house’.
From the age of 18 months until she was six years old, Sabrina was sexually abused by her father. Later, after her parents separated, she was exploited by her mother. ‘She sold me to men up and down the street when we moved here from the age of seven till I was 12.’
At 12, Sabrina reported the abuse to her teacher. It happened one day while the class were watching a sex-education video.
‘I turned around and said to the teacher, “I do that”. And she wasn’t surprised. I was hardly at school. She even told me that I was always turning up at school from the age of eight or nine drunk. Mum used to give me alcohol. A lot of it I did block out, some of it I do remember. I told her straight out, “I do that. And it’s not just one person”.’
The teacher contacted welfare and explained the situation but very little was done. Every now and then welfare moved Sabrina to a home placement but most of the time they left her in her mother’s care. Sometimes Sabrina’s mother nominated ‘family friends’ to take care of her daughter for a few days. Welfare accepted these suggestions and, on more than one occasion, sent Sabrina to stay with the men who had sexually abused her.
At 14, Sabrina was made a ward of the state and given a long-term placement in a home. She said one of the staff ‘started having an affair with me within two weeks’. Some time later she was raped twice by another member of staff. Sabrina made several suicide attempts during this period. Eventually she reported the rapes to welfare.
‘The police come out. The welfare workers scared me and told me not to go through with it or else I’m the one who’s going to end up in the shit.’ Sabrina dropped the charges. Afterwards, welfare removed her from the home. ‘They moved me back to my father and mother after they knew everything what happened.’
Sabrina shifted between her mother’s home and various welfare homes until she was 17. After that, she set up her own life, worked a variety of jobs and raised her kids, always ensuring that they enjoyed the education and opportunities that she never had.
Over the years Sabrina has spoken to police many times about her abusers. The case against her father is progressing but neither of the welfare workers have ever been charged.
Recently Sabrina took legal action against the state. Her lawyers originally suggested she could get $400,000 compensation but later changed their tune. ‘They were saying to me, because I was abused before I went into welfare it’s not welfare’s problem.’ Sabrina ended up with $30,000, and the lawyers took half of that in fees.
Despite everything she’s been through, Sabrina remains outspoken and undaunted. When asked how she’s managed to stay so resilient, she said, ‘Probably because I stood up to every one of them … My life’s been my life and I’ve got no shame or guilt for what happened to me’.