From the age of five Shannen and her siblings were in and out of institutional homes. Her father found it difficult to care for his children because two of them had dietary conditions and developmental disabilities.
In the mid-1970s, Shannen and her siblings were placed in a children’s home in New South Wales. She stayed here for two years. Shannen was very unhappy in the home and was subjected to regular physical abuse by the workers. Her brother fell ill as his health needs were not properly monitored. Shannen tried to tell a matron of his condition but she was ignored and her brother died soon afterwards.
After her brother’s death, Shannen was returned to her father for a short period of time and then removed again. When she was six she was separated from her other sibling and sent to a ‘toddler’s camp’ by her Department of Community Services district officer. Shannen recalls notifying a worker at the camp about her ‘wetting the bed’ problem. The worker said he was a doctor and that he could help her with her bed wetting. He went on to sexually abuse her in his office.
When Shannen was 11 her mother died, which put a bigger strain on her father, and she was moved around numerous times for several years. She said it was ‘unsettling’ having to get up and move without any consultation. She recalled that when she was 14 she came home from school one day to find her belongings ‘packed up’. She was taken to court and made a ward of the state. Her father ‘gave up’ Shannen and her sibling because he ‘didn’t have much of a choice’. She remains extremely hurt by her father’s decision.
In the early 1980s Shannen was sent to another camp, organised by a church. She noticed that one of the workers, Louis Gravel, showed an interest in her. Gravel was in his early 20s. He followed her around during the day and found excuses to talk to her. She said Gravel’s attention was nice, but it didn’t ‘seem right’.
After an athletic activity, Shannen’s feet were sore and so she walked back to the bus to sit down and take her shoes off. Gravel followed, and came onto the bus with her and sexually abused her. She didn’t tell anyone about what Gravel had done because she was scared that she ‘gave the wrong impression’. She believed that she’d be the one to get into trouble.
After the camp Shannen went to a girls’ home in regional New South Wales. She ran away several times but was returned by the police. When she was 15, she successfully escaped the home and made her way to Queensland, where she picked up some ‘survival skills’, such as sleeping in St Vincent De Paul charity disposal bins at night to keep warm, and taking clean clothing from the bin to wear.
Shannen described her adolescent years as ‘risk taking’. She experimented with several drugs and often got herself into difficult situations while travelling across the country. When she was 16, she was involved in an accident that left her with a spinal injury which still affects her. Not long after the accident, she attempted suicide.
In the late 1980s, Shannen became pregnant and moved into a home with her partner, and they had another child. Owning her own house was a huge step for her and it’s something she is extremely proud of.
‘That was my biggest goal in life, having a home. Something I’ve never had.’
Shannen suffers from depression and bad migraines. She has ‘attachment issues’ which have affected her relationships with her partner and children. She doesn’t show affection to her children and grandchildren, which she feels guilty about. She told the Commissioner that her brother’s death created a ‘huge gap’ in her life and she continues to grieve his loss.