Shannon was born in the early 1940s and was placed in a Presbyterian children’s home when she was barely nine months old. Knowing no different, she grew up in a world where violence was commonplace. She was beaten with the strap, deprived of food and sometimes locked in a small cupboard overnight. She told the Commissioner, ‘I remember a lot of hurt. Terrible lot of hurt’.
From about age seven she was sexually abused by the manager of the home, Mr Harrison. ‘He used to come down to the house at night time and sit down on my bed and stroke me … and while he’s doing that I had to hold his private.’
The abuse lasted for years. Over that time, Shannon’s behaviour became more and more rebellious. Whenever she was caught acting up she was sent to Mr Harrison for punishment. ‘He used to put me over his knee with no pants on.’ Then, as he hit her, he would ‘move his finger down there’.
Shannon’s only ray of hope came in the form of the Kerrigans, a family who took her in on the occasional weekend. ‘And they wanted to adopt me but it wasn’t allowed … When I used to go out with them it was heaven. Then go back to hell every day.’
Eventually her behaviour got so bad that Shannon was sent to a different home. Around that time she started getting in trouble with the police. She was 13 years old at that stage and had experienced very little schooling, having been dismissed by her teacher as ‘dumb’. She told the Commissioner, ‘They taught us to be bad. We didn’t teach ourselves to be bad’.
The home decided to treat Shannon’s behavioural problems by introducing her to her biological family. They sat her in a room one day and said, ‘Your parents are going to walk through that door’.
‘Then I saw the door open, I saw my mother walk in and I said, “She’s black” … and that was cruel. I wasn’t expecting that. They could have told me … I liked every colour, but it was just a shock of not knowing, because you didn’t know who you were.’
Shannon said that she got ‘no love’ from her mother at that first meeting, and never has. But as a teenager she found love elsewhere. Or, as she put it, ‘I thought I did’.
At 16 she formed a relationship with a young man. She didn’t know she was pregnant until one of the workers at the home pointed it out. The home pressed charges against her boyfriend for carnal knowledge and the relationship ended.
‘When they said that I just walked in the middle of the road, I didn’t care about getting hit. Got picked up again. Suicidal.’
Shannon said that welfare took her baby away and after that she got ‘really bad’. She spent some time in prison and was then shipped off to live on a reserve with her aunt, even though ‘I’d never been on a reserve in my life’.
One day a man in a car pulled up and asked her to go for a ride. She agreed. ‘I just thought everything like that was natural.’
This was the beginning of what turned out to be a violently abusive relationship. ‘I was getting brutally belted every day by him. I had no family to call up.’ When Shannon sought help from the doctor he prescribed valium. After a few weeks she became addicted. ‘I had to have them, just to get the pain out of me. He was so brutal.’
On a few occasions she deliberately committed small crimes so that she could get thrown in jail where it was safe. During one of these stints her partner died. When the nurse told her she said, ‘Oh thank God’.
Since then, Shannon has had a number of children, but most were taken away. She said, ‘I’ve been always pulled away from all my family’.
However, she still has a strong relationship with one of her sons. A few years ago she told him about the abuse and gave him her file to read. He was immediately sympathetic. Shannon said, ‘he hugs me all the time’.
Now she gets regular support from a psychiatrist and some very good friends, but still struggles every day with the hurt she’s suffered.
‘I hope that never happens to any more children. I read up on the net that they’re taking children again and not putting them with family. That’s terrible, isn’t it? Because those children are going to be like aliens, like me. I feel like an alien. I feel like a nobody.’