Sheree Michelle's story

‘I just feel like I was let down big time ... Why take me off my mum if you’re gonna leave me to be molested and abused and starved?’

In the early 1970s, when Sheree was about three, she and some of her sisters were removed from their mother’s care. They were made state wards and placed in a children’s home, but shortly afterwards went into kinship foster care with their aunty.

Sheree would wake up during the night feeling a heavy weight on top of her, often with her pants down around her ankles. Although she kept her eyes shut, she knew it was two of her uncles, Chris and Aaron, who were sexually abusing her – she could smell the particular types of alcohol or tobacco on their breath. If her aunty was home, Aaron would perform oral sex on her, and digitally penetrate her. Otherwise he would rape her, and so would Chris. Sheree would sometimes dissociate to cope with this abuse.

Some mornings Sheree would say to her aunty that she had been unable to move during the night and had been pinned down to the bed, but she was told that it was ‘spirits’ doing this.

Chris would come into the bathroom too when the girls were showering and molest them too. Sheree was also subjected to physical and emotional abuse and neglect in her aunt’s home. The girls were flogged daily with a stick or length of garden hose by all of the adults there, and were expected to do all the household chores. Sheree would cook (if there was food), wash their clothes, and get the children all ready for school. Often she’d fall asleep in class because she had not got a proper sleep at home, constantly fearing her uncles’ attacks.

One night Sheree threatened Aaron that she would tell her aunty exactly what he was doing to them. Aaron died by suicide soon after this threat. At his funeral Sheree told a relative ‘he wasn’t a great man, he was a child molester’.

Sheree felt both relieved that he was gone, and some responsibility for his death. The abuse by Chris continued for some time, albeit less frequently, and he is now also deceased. When her aunty learned about the sexual abuse later on she denied any knowledge, and claimed the girls were making up stories.

Sheree ran away often, being returned to her aunty by police, but nobody ever asked her why she ran. In her mid-teens she asked welfare to let her return to her alcoholic mother, as there was always food there and she felt safer. She left school in Year 8 and found work, and met her husband not long afterwards.

This marriage had difficulties from the beginning, as Sheree had a lot of problems with physical intimacy – ‘I couldn’t stand being rude with him’ – and would get flashbacks to the abuse. ‘When it came to laying down, I just had no ... I couldn’t ... It’s like he was on top of me and I didn’t want him on me. Like you know, I wasn’t even seeing him as a person, I just see a big figure.’

Sheree was over-protective of their children to the point where she would react angrily if her husband touched their daughter, suspecting he wanted to molest her. She never felt able to explain to him why she reacted this way, and eventually they separated. Now she has a new partner who knows about the abuse, and he is very supportive. ‘He can read me before I get to where I’m going with my feelings ... he sees that I’m getting bristled up.’

It was not until quite recently that Sheree disclosed the sexual abuse to anyone, while lodging an application with a state redress scheme. She received around $30,000 in compensation, which she found very insulting given the ongoing abuse she experienced and witnessed as a child in government care. The apology that accompanied this payment meant more to her – ‘acknowledgement is a big thing ... at least he [the premier] had the decency to acknowledge that things had happened.’

She received some counselling too, but did not find this very useful. ‘He only told me what I knew, I’m suffering from depression and everything else ... The more I talked about it the more weaker I got, and stressed ... I was upset all the time, and grumpy.’

Sheree doesn’t know what else might help her heal from her childhood trauma. ‘I don’t know. I don’t think you get fixed ... All you can do is go on and try and make yourself happy, you know ... Nothing you can do can take back all the feelings.’

From a very early age Sheree has looked out for and taken care of kids in need – ‘I was the mother of my sisters and my little brother. I do that now, it was just my nature’. If kids are at risk of being put into care she takes them in, and works with their mothers to help keep them out of foster care. ‘I know there are good people out there who take on kids ... but there’s still a lot of bad things happening, even today.’

Recently she has been talking to some other Aboriginal women and ‘I might try and start up an agency, ‘cause I’m always helping anyway ... I get other mums involved and we go and help the mums in the family. ‘Cause if you fix the mums you fix the family’. All her life she has watched women being beaten and controlled by their male partners and wants them to realise this is not right – ‘they don’t even know they got rights to speak'.

Sheree explained to the Commissioner how she educated the children and adults in her community about how to prevent and deal with child sexual abuse. When she was younger ‘nobody was allowed to talk about anything – then it didn’t happen’, but now people should be aware they can report abuse.

‘That’s what I do with my mob. I just say, say it straight out, I tell them. Even when the kids are three I say, anyone tries to touch your bum, you come and tell aunty. And I tell them we don’t have to hate that person, but we do need to tell that person it’s wrong.’

Content updating Updating complete