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Saskia's story

‘I was never given a talk about “Your body is your body, and no one should touch your private parts”. Or told that some people like to play those kinds of games.’

Saskia and her older brother Tyson were in care from the mid-1970s, when she was a baby. When she was in Year 1, Adam Mather, her foster father in Brisbane, began sexually abusing her when they had showers together.

Saskia remembers being ‘oily’ all over her body, and ‘him lifting me up and telling me to keep my legs straight and stiff’. He would put his penis ‘in the middle of my legs near my bottom and was moving me back and forth, with my face not facing his’.

Mather said that if she told anyone, she and Tyson would be removed from the family. Saskia always vomited after these showers, and told her foster mother she had a ‘sore minnie’ (vagina). ‘She told me that it was my knickers that were making it sore.’

Mather would also get Saskia alone, to play ‘the friendly worm game’. This entailed Saskia kissing and licking his penis, ‘like an ice cream’, and masturbating him until he ejaculated. ‘I thought it was normal, and every kid’s father does this’.

Two of Saskia’s foster cousins, who were in their late teens, sexually abused her at a family event, beginning with the boy putting his hand in her underwear. Afterwards she told her foster mother she was sore, and was asked ‘Are you wearing those knickers again?’

These cousins later accosted Saskia in a bedroom, and put Vaseline on her ‘minnie’. The boy got on top of her ‘and started to rub himself on me … going up and down’, while the girl told her it would be okay. ‘I wet myself and told the girl it was hurting me, and I was crying.’

Saskia believed Mather and his wife to be ‘my Mum and Dad’, not knowing she and Tyson were fostered. In the early 1980s, the children were moved to a nearby orphanage, run by the Sisters of Mercy. She assumed it was somehow her fault they ‘didn’t have a family anymore’, despite never telling anyone about the ‘worm game’.

At the home, Tyson would accompany her to the toilet at night, because she was scared of cockroaches in the bathroom. Sometimes he got another boy to help her instead, and this boy made her perform oral sex on him until she vomited. This abuse happened numerous times. Scared of wetting the bed and being in trouble with the nuns, she went with this boy, doing what he wanted, so she could use the toilet.

The Sisters noticed the smell of vomit, and would say, ‘From one thing to another. You are not wetting anymore, but vomiting … What are we going to do with you?’ This abuse continued until one of the nuns caught them in the toilets one night. The Sister took the boy by the ear, and got another nun to wash Saskia and take her to bed. This incident wasn’t mentioned again – ‘They didn’t even say it was wrong’.

When she was around eight years old the siblings moved to another Catholic children’s home, where the children lived in cottages. A teenage boy and girl from another cottage would play ‘mothers and fathers’, or ‘doctors and nurses’, with Saskia and other kids. The boy would make the girl perform oral sex on him, and then the children, until he ejaculated.

Other times, the children had to take their underwear off and bounce up and down on his penis. He also digitally penetrated Saskia and another girl. These ‘games’ continued until one of the house fathers discovered what was happening. The boy was immediately removed from the home.

Saskia and Tyson had a social worker, who asked if they would like her to find their birth mother. When Saskia was nine years old it was arranged for them to spend holidays with her, and her other children. Their mother was in a lesbian relationship, which Saskia found very confusing as nobody had explained it to her. This confusion made her decide to stay at the children’s home, while Tyson went to live with their mother. It was the first time she had been without her brother, and she missed him deeply. She never saw her mother again.

Back at the home, Saskia was sent on vacation placements with another family. The daughter sexually fondled her, and made her perform sexual acts, threatening that if Saskia told anyone she would not be able to go away with the family anymore. Saskia considered the abuse ‘just a small price to pay to get out of the home for a while’.

When Saskia was around 15, she and Tyson met their birth father. They soon realised they did not want to stay with him, but with his parents instead. Her grandmother taught her to read and write, and ‘how to respect myself as a young woman’. Saskia told the Royal Commission she wishes she’d had the chance to live with her grandparents earlier, as she would have been safe there.

Throughout her time in care, Saskia was never educated about sexual abuse, or who she could turn to if these things happened. Even when the abuse was discovered, nobody ever told her that it was a bad thing. This meant she did not fully understand that what was happening to her was wrong, or know how to report it. She has now had some legal advice about compensation, but was not aware of all her civil and criminal options.

Saskia ended up in a violent marriage, which she has left, as she wants a better life for her children. Not growing up in a safe family setting herself, she is determined her kids will have it better.

‘I don’t have my family around, but if you get the right people, you can make a family environment.’

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