‘I feel that all the potential that I had has just been torn up and thrown away, that I’ll never get that back’, Stacey told the Commissioner. ‘I have one great big jigsaw puzzle to put together and I have these pieces that are missing – and you can’t find ‘em and you can’t get ‘em back.’
When Stacey was eight, she and her siblings were taken from their mother who was having trouble coping with depression after a marriage break-up. Stacey became a ward of the state, under the supervision of the NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS).
‘What I can’t understand is, I was removed from my mother’s care for incompetent guardianship – and placed into another incompetent guardianship. Why?’
Stacey suffered numerous instances of sexual abuse while in DOCS' care through the 1980s. At her very first placement in a children’s home in Sydney, Stacey remembers an older woman who slept in the same room as her and would appear by her bed in the middle of the night.
‘She’d touch me inappropriately, and get me to touch her inappropriately.’
Stacey remembers drawing a picture of a naked woman on a chalkboard at the home in an attempt to communicate with other staff, but the picture was removed and Stacey was not asked any questions about it. The abuse continued.
Work cubicles were partitioned with screens in the suburban DOCS office where Stacey spent many hours of her childhood waiting for placement into foster care or a group home. She was abused several times in one of these cubicles by a district officer. He would place his hand inside her clothes. Stacey was forced to touch him too.
Stacey remembers gazing at the swimming pool across the road and wishing she could be there. She believes ‘allowing that little bit of interference’ was required before she was allowed to go to the pool. She did not report the abuse. ‘I’m a child. Ten years old … Who do you tell? I didn’t have my parents.’
A couple who ran a children’s home in Sydney’s west told Stacey they would like to adopt her and her brother. While Stacey was staying with relatives of the couple she was abused at least three times by the man, who said he would like to become her father. The adoption did not proceed.
Stacey attended a YMCA camp while living in one of the group homes DOCS had found for her. There was a disco at the camp one night. Stacey allowed herself to be escorted back to her cabin by a male she remembers only as ‘Towel Man’.
‘I shouldn’t have gone with him. I didn’t know what I was getting in to.’ The man raped Stacey on her bed in the cabin. Again Stacey felt there was no one she could turn to. ‘Some kind of fear had come over me. I don’t know what he said to me. There was something pretty bad there in the cabin before I could go.’
Stacey believes her life has been blighted by the repeated abuse. ‘I was pretty much switched on early, sexually.’ She gave birth to her first child in her mid teens. ‘I just thought that having a child of my own was something that no one could take away from me.’
Stacey feels abandoned and has trust issues with people and authority. She has resorted to alcohol and drugs, and has found herself in abusive relationships. ‘There are underlying issues to why I have taken those things that I never meant to take. I never meant to do, and I never meant to throw my life away too.’
Stacey is still furious with DOCS. ‘I wasn’t being abused at home … When you get to a point where you’re taken from home and thrown in with sex offenders – that’s just going from one incompetency into another incompetency.’ Stacey believes there is much more that can be done to help families before children are removed.
Stacey has been to counselling, and has tried to face what has happened to her and find some forgiveness. ‘It’s been a hard thing for me to do, especially to forgive the government.’
The Bible and a new commitment to Christ are helping Stacey now. She has given up drugs and alcohol. ‘I believe that I had to go through such a big thing to get to … my spiritual creator.’ She credits religion with helping her eldest child finish school and find satisfying work. Stacey believes the Bible has shown her what she needs to turn her life around.
‘It’s got principles, it’s got morals that these departments don’t have. It’s got truth and honesty and integrity, and it’s got morals of compassion and empathy. I’ve needed to learn patience and I’ve needed to learn to endure and to suffer many sufferings to get where I’ve got.’
‘I’ve had to learn to forgive my perpetrators, I’ve had to learn to forgive the government, but the hardest thing is I can’t forgive myself.’