‘Those memories are always there, still there. The pain never goes away, I will carry it with me for the rest of my life every day as I go on.’
Selina was born a boy in the late 1960s in regional South Australia. She and her family lived on an Aboriginal mission run by the Lutheran Church.
When she was about four or five years old, Selina began to attend the mission school. The superintendent of the school and the mission, Mr Hill, began grooming her when Selina was young, ‘just starting kindy’. He would ‘hover over’ as she rested with the other children during their daily quiet time.
Mr Hill and his wife were highly regarded on the mission, with other people looking up to them. He preached in church and both were very involved in all mission activities.
‘I thought he was a priest but I found out after that he was [the superintendent] of the mission.’
Selina was abused in the school and also in the church by Hill. When she was about 10 or 11 years old, she told his wife about the abuse.
‘I remember approaching her at the office and telling her, and she said, “Stop telling fibs, go away” … I just had a feeling that she knew … I believe she knew because there was other kids as well … trying to tell her things and she told all of us [to go away].’
Selina didn’t disclose her abuse to anyone.
‘Back then it was really hard for me to express myself, [as a] child, teenager, young adult.’
The sexual abuse was intrusive and brutal and on one occasion her foreskin was torn and bled. She tried to hide the injury.
‘He masturbated me in the church and I went home … [my Aunty] wanted to know [why] … I put the jumper round in front of me but I asked her not to tell my mum and dad. So, I showed her because I trusted her but she freaked out and she called my mum and dad and they took me straight to the hospital.’
Selina told her parents, aunt and the doctor that she had cut her foreskin with the zipper on her fly. The doctor didn’t believe her story and wanted to know who had injured her.
‘I said I don’t want to talk about it, I was that upset and I left the room. That’s all I remember … I was more worried that Mum and Dad give me a hiding.’
The abuse also included the application of chemicals to her genitals and scrubbing to remove any evidence of the abuse.
‘I [had to see] a plastic surgeon because the skin down below in that area, he scrubbed me with chemicals and a steel brush … and I ended up bleeding for years … prescribed medication, creams, pills … because I would have to bathe it all the time. And it was like … a dry crepe, my skin, and sometimes it would open up and start bleeding.’
The skin was painful and uncomfortable for a long time but eventually healed. Selina still has scarring though, and experiences occasional pain.
‘I describe it as “to Hell and back” … I was taking drugs at a young age … ’cause I tried to block it out … I started when I was about, maybe 10, drinking and just lost it.
‘I tried to kill myself when I was 13. I tried to burn myself alive, I tried to hang myself, drown myself. I tried everything … stomach pumped out … Then I was sent to a psychiatrist and they diagnosed me as schizophrenic and they put me on an antidepressant … I don’t see myself as schizophrenic.’
Her injuries from the abuse have meant that she has required medical attention for most of her life. She is still on medication, ‘for depression and sleeping pills because I have bad memories or bad dreams …
‘Sometimes I’ll stay awake for a month.’
Selina went to the police when she was younger and gave a statement but couldn’t pursue her abuser at the time.
‘I was just more worried about my mum [and] how she might be treated at the church … I was more worried about her, that’s why I backed off.’
When she was in her 30s, she told her mother.
‘In a traditional way, she hit the ground … [and] she started bashing herself with a rock … that’s how they [mourn] … she blamed herself but I told her it wasn’t her fault.’
Selina is a dancer, actor, singer and artist who has had a successful career. She finds comfort in her art.
‘Art and dancing and singing, that kept me busy. But then sometimes it will come back to me. Or sometimes I feel like I’m living a double life or I have to pretend I’m someone else.’
Recently, Selina has stopped dancing and performing, ‘Everything just got to me’. She has found ongoing support through an Aboriginal counselling service. Selina feels she has missed out on opportunities because of the abuse.
‘Something comes up all the time that stops me [from doing things] … I don’t know why. I can’t explain it.’
Selina has made a detailed statement to police about her abuser, who is still alive and working in communities. She knows there are other people who were abused at the school as well.
‘He had his favourites and the favourites, [some of them] came and told me what he did to them but they just won’t come forward.’
Selina has consulted a lawyer about compensation and is waiting for the outcome of the police process before progressing her claim. She is hoping to go back to painting soon.
‘Painting is strong … It’s like a journey so I tell it through the art … I feel like a survivor.’