Shania grew up in a regional Western Australian town in the 1970s. Her mother drank heavily and her father was often absent due to his job. At the age of three, not long after her parents’ marriage broke down, Shania and her siblings were placed in a Catholic-run orphanage.
During the two years Shania spent there she experienced physical and emotional abuse from one of the nuns in charge.
‘[She] would be cruel to us. We couldn’t wear the clothes; we had to stay in just knickers. We wouldn’t get fed properly; we’d be sent to bed without any supper. She was only kind to the lighter-skinned ones.’
At the age of five Shania was made a ward of the state and sent back into the care of her father and her new stepmother. Her father continued to be away a lot and Shania was left with her stepmother. Her stepmother’s five brothers became regular visitors to Shania’s house and began sexually abusing and raping her.
‘Every time they were drunk they would come over, and that was every weekend. That went on from when I was five … [for] eight years.’
Shania had no one to report the abuse too as she wanted to remain loyal to her father and her mother, by now a chronic alcoholic, was living interstate.
‘I couldn’t tell my mum, I couldn’t tell my step-mum, I couldn’t tell my dad.’
Living in a small town was challenging too because as Shania grew older she regularly saw her abusers out in public and at family occasions. Even now she is often sexually harassed by her abusers on the street.
‘I used to walk around with a very solemn face, never smiling, never interacting with anybody, very submissive, withdrawn. Just walking around by myself, no friends, go to school sit by myself, come back from school. Be a tomboy, you know, not interested in boys, because of what they done to me. I wasn’t interested in guys until I was 16.’
Shania had her first baby and married when she was 17 years old.
She didn’t tell her mother about the abuse until she was in her early 30s. Her mother then opened up about the sexual abuse she’d experienced as a child, revealing too that Shania’s grandmother had also been sexually abused as a child. Shania found this information difficult to deal with.
‘In a way I blame her for being a drunk but then I don’t because it happened to her and she had no other way of coping with it but drink.’ She has still not told her now elderly and ill father about the abuse.
Shania was married for many years but her partner was violent towards her and there was alcohol abuse in her marriage. She left the marriage and for a period of time was estranged from her children. Recently though, she’d made significant headway in reconciling with them and she’s been able to provide a home and security for them when they visit.
‘It’s only in the last six months that my daughter and I have bonded.’
She is now in a stable and loving relationship and where once she was drinking alcohol, she has now stopped. Shania knows she is resilient and keeps working towards a safe and secure future for her children and with her partner. She described living with severe psychological conditions that she thought would continue for the rest of her life.
‘The only reason I used to go down [in mood] … was I used to think about my kids and if they were being abused.’
She was awarded financial redress from the state government because she was legally under their care during the years of her sexual abuse. Her doctors believe that her extensive and brutal abuse is a significant factor in the severity of her mental health issues.
She hopes by telling her story to the Royal Commission that people, including children, will become more open about child sexual abuse generally.
‘It has to be open – let someone know.’ She would also like to see more education about the symptoms that abused children display so that parents can recognise the signs and intervene and help their children to report the abuse.
Shania found speaking to the Commission valuable.
‘To tell the story, you know, it’s worth telling, people will know and I’ll be heard. Let go of the past and build a future, move on. That’s what I want to do. Because I want to have a life.’