Sara isn’t comfortable with the word ‘survivor’ as she’s not sure she is quite surviving. ‘In the last two years I’ve overdosed five times and once been close to death. I was in a coma for two days. The last overdose was only last week.’
Decades after being sexually abused she continues to work through things. ‘It’s actually hit me harder later in life than when I tried to be so tough when I was younger, like between the ages of 18 and 24, 25. And I think after that it started to affect me, the nightmares, the terrors, the sweats, the feelings of sometimes not being able to talk to friends because they go … “You’ve got too much crap happening”, being isolated and … not being able to have a relationship. Because I totally hate them. I hate them for everything they’ve done to me.’
Sara grew up in Sydney in the 1970s with her mother. She didn’t know her father. Her mother’s partner, who didn’t live with them at the time, sexually abused Sara when she was nine years old. When Sara told her mother, her mother slapped her on the face and called her a lying bitch. Her mother’s partner was moving in so Sara went to live with her grandmother.
During that time, Sara’s mother used to try and get Sara back, ‘kidnap’ her, sometimes dragging her by the hair. This was so stressful for the grandmother, who was only living in a bedsit, that Sara was taken into the care of the Department of Community Services (DOCS).
Sara first went to a Uniting Church children’s home. Harsh punishments were common and there was a culture of violence amongst the children there. At around the age of 10, Sara was hit on her bare bottom and ‘privates’ as punishment by a female staff member. This woman was in her mid-20s at the time. ‘She’s on my facebook page. She’s tried to keep in contact with me but really I don’t … She doesn’t really think that she’s done that much wrong.’
At the home Sara was sexually abused by three older boys. This included oral and penetrative sex. She couldn’t disclose to anyone for fear of being bashed by the boys, something that happened on a number of occasions. Sara would self-harm, using knitting needles. She recalled there being a lack of staff supervision, particularly at night when the abuses would occur. Sara believes she told a caseworker about some of the abuse and was told that she ‘needed to learn to get on with the other kids’.
‘I hated putting on a bra, when I first put it on, because … boys would stare at you … Because of the abuse I hated my body. When I was forming puberty and growing older, I didn’t like myself because it was something boys would try and use against you or hurt you with …
‘I remember having sex with one boy, penetration sex, and I thought I was doing it because I wanted him to love me … He was older than me and he knew better … He shouldn’t have been able to do stuff like that to us. And we weren’t counselled properly … I should have been taught how to love my body. I should have been taught how to defend myself, how to say no … be able to just be a child and not to have to suffer all that.’
After three years in the home, Sara was moved to a government-run children’s home when she was 13. This home had bars on the windows which made her feel she’d done something wrong. There she was coerced into sex by the 16-year-old son of her housemaster. She was abused by another boy there too.
Sara had previously reported the sexual abuse by her mother’s partner to the police. When she was 14 the case was heard in court. ‘I was treated like I was the criminal … I wasn’t looked after by the court system.’ Her mother spoke against her in court, saying Sara was a liar. Even the police asked her, ‘Are you sure you’re not making this up?’ The accused was acquitted.
DOCS forced Sara to visit her mother and her partner. This terrified her as they were both violent people. Sara was never made a ward of the state. She believes this was because her mother could get a larger public housing residence if she had dependents.
Sara ran away to a refuge and was unofficially fostered by a family that she’d met through there. However, she suddenly ran away from this loving household because, looking back, she believes she misinterpreted an accidental touch that the foster father made. ‘I just freaked out.’
From there Sara found work and travelled around the country. She was made to have oral sex with a boy from the company she was working with. Sara ran away and, being interstate at the time with nowhere to go, she contacted DOCS who told her to get a job and look after herself. She was 15.
Sara did manage to look after herself, doing various jobs. Her relationships have all been abusive. She lives with her children and ex-partner but has so many health issues she’s unable to work or take care of herself properly. She has a loving relationship with her children but she’s not the mother to them she wants to be.
She has a lawyer and is considering her options with regards to compensation.
‘You’re trying to live and then there’s this big, big dark grey area over the top of you. And you try to climb out but it’s just hard. It feels like you’re just pulled back all the time.’