Sherilyn was five when she was put into foster care in Western Australia in the mid-1960s. Despite some instances of physical abuse, she was very close to her foster mother and thought of her teenage son as a big brother. He was away at boarding school, and she would look forward to the holidays when he’d come home.
They lived on a farm with horses and other animals, which Sherilyn remembers fondly. One day, after a ride, the son took her to a back paddock and sexually abused her. He was about 16 at the time, she was six.
That night, Sherilyn told her foster mother about the abuse. She remembers hearing a big argument between the mother and son, and never saw the boy again.
Soon after, the foster mother took her to a psychiatrist, claiming Sherilyn was a compulsive liar. She now believes this was done so if she told anyone about the abuse, it could be dismissed as just more of her lies.
Over the next few years Sherilyn’s life settled down. She’d sometimes clash with her foster mother, who’d threaten to send her to a convent, but ‘the farm was home’.
In her early teens, in something she described as the second most traumatic day of her life, Sherilyn was taken to live with her sister in the city. She remembered her new foster mother as ‘a crazy woman’, often walking around the house naked, inappropriately grabbing and touching the girls and watching them take baths.
When Sherilyn got an after-school job, she had to give her wages to her foster mother. This went on for years. The woman claimed to be banking it, but Sherilyn later discovered most of the money had been spent.
She ran away when she was 16 and tried to find her parents, the mum and dad she’d never known, but had no luck. She got married and moved with her husband overseas, living there for nearly 20 years.
Overseas, Sherilyn said, she ‘ran amok’. There were drug and health problems, and times when she was homeless. She also became a mother, but was barely able to cope.
In the late 90s she moved back to Australia. ‘I wanted to heal, and get rid of demons. I did that because of the daughter I left.’ She has no contact with her child overseas but Sherilyn hopes, as she gets better, that will change. ‘When she comes looking for me I want her to find a whole and healthy mum.’
Sherilyn now has two more children, and is doing everything she can to improve her mental health. ‘I want to be the best mum for my kids. I never had a mother so I don’t know how to be one but I’m trying.’
Several years ago she called police to report the sexual abuse. They never followed up the call so she never made a formal statement. But speaking with the Commission made her determined to try again.
‘It’s been horrible to feel like I’ve had to carry this little girl for 45 years with me. I’m hoping that finally I can put her to bed. And that I can move forward and know who I am because all I know is that little girl.’
After living for so long with the memories and impact of the abuse, Sherilyn now has support from her doctor and Aboriginal community, and is healing.
‘I’ve come out the other side.’