When Shauna saw some women on television talking about being sexually abused in the girls’ detention centre she’d also been in, she decided to tell her story too. ‘I thought if they’re brave enough and strong enough, then I should. I have to because it’s just been too horrible, so I think it’s got to be brought out and told.’
In the late 1950s, Shauna was 12 and was placed in foster care after her parents separated; her mother was struggling to look after six children. Continued attempts to run away from the homes resulted in Shauna being picked up at 14 by NSW Police and charged with being ‘in moral danger’. A magistrate ordered she be sent to a girls’ detention centre.
‘The unbearable prison-like conditions we underage, innocent convicts were made to suffer is just the start. Upon arrival the resident doctor inspected me for STDs. This man spread my legs and, as he was inserting a steel expansion device into my vagina, he said, “And how many times have you been rooted?”’
Shauna told the Commissioner that girls in the centre were frequently given Largactil, to ‘calm us down’. On one occasion after being given the anti-psychotic drug, Shauna found herself with the deputy superintendent in the underground cell known as ‘the dungeon’.
‘His penis was exposed and he made me rub it until he ejaculated, after which he backhanded me across the face and said, “Don’t try telling anyone because no one will believe you, you little slut”.’
Physical and sexual violence in the home was routine. Girls weren’t allowed to talk to each other and were beaten, raped and thrown against walls by a succession of staff members.
In the early 1960s, Shauna was charged with insubordination and sent to another centre, more severe than the previous one. Things got so bad, she said, that she would catch spiders in her cell and put them down her clothes in the hope they’d bite her to death.
While there she was sexually abused by a staff member, Mr White. ‘He approached me and started forcibly fondling me. It wasn’t long before he was inserting his fingers in my vagina. I was frightened and from past experience knew there was little I could do. He then raped me.’
Shauna secretly disclosed the abuse to several other girls who said that it had also happened to them. The girls told a warden ‘who thankfully notified the police’. White was charged and went to court, and the girls gave evidence. ‘Sitting in the court I was looking at his wife and my heart went out to her, listening to what she had to hear. I don’t know really what happened to him, but I know he didn’t come back.’
Just before her 18th birthday, Shauna was released from custody. ‘I had no education, no schooling, no purpose.’ She married quickly after her stepfather threatened she’d be sent back to detention if she didn’t. The marriage didn’t last long, and in following years she was in several violent relationships.
Shauna said she didn’t tell anyone about the abuse for a long time. ‘I think I just kept it to myself until I realised that I was the innocent one and they’re the guilty ones, and then I started talking. Before that, I was bad. I was a bad girl for what I did. Now I know I’ve got a voice. You’re the one that did it to me. I’m the innocent one. It’s a trick.’
From her early 20s, Shauna had been using benzodiazepines to help with pain in her back and neck. It took many years before a psychiatrist in a pain management clinic asked if her physical pain might be related to anything from childhood, at which point she broke down and ‘told him everything’.
Shauna told the Commissioner that as a child all she’d wanted was for her family to be together, and she wished financial or practical support had been available to her mother.
‘In summary, my crime was to be the child of a poor woman who could not afford to keep all her children under the one roof. In rebelling against living with a foreign family, I found myself an incarcerated prisoner serving hard labour, and being at the mercy of lecherous and predatory paedophiles and sadists, and therefore having to crush my own personal development and any chance of real education.
'I have survived with many scars and psychological obstacles.
'My life could very well have been very different. Who knows? I just know that, by any standards, I should never have been subjected to such horrendous custody.’