Tamsin reckons there’s no point in giving victims of child sex abuse a lump sum compensation payment. She herself was abused as a child, by two of her cousins who were both in their mid-teens. The abuse began when she was five, and continued until she was nine or 10.
She was 22 when she met the Commissioner, and serving a prison sentence in a South Australian jail.
‘I reckon if a lot of women come in here and tell their stories and got payouts it would literally go up in their arms’, she explained. ‘There’s no point in paying them for what’s happened, it’s stupid. If anything, set them up with a stable place or something … Not just where they can take it and just blow it up. Because I know half of them who are in here, it’s going to go straight up their arms. The hurt’s there, why give ’em something they can increase it with, you know what I mean?’
She doesn’t see much value in an apology, either. ‘It’s not really anyone’s fault, I suppose. Like some people are just sick. I don’t blame anyone. It’s not going to get me anywhere blaming somebody else for what happened to me.’
Tamsin had been placed in her aunt’s care when the abuse occurred. For a long time she didn’t realise it was wrong. But when she was about 10, she told her aunt what her cousins were doing. Her aunt took her to the police to report it. The experience was ‘horrible’, Tamsin said.
‘They couldn’t do anything because I couldn’t use the right words … They didn’t listen, they didn’t care.’ One of the cousins was given a warning, she believes. She doesn’t know if there were any other consequences for either boy.
But she was clear about the consequences for her. ‘It left me with many mental scars’, she said. ‘It’s heartbreaking to have your body parts discovered for you, and what they do. When you kinda get to the age when you want to give it, it’s already taken, and then you feel like a part of you’s gone. Like, what’s the point?’
She began self-harming. By the time she was 13 she was an alcoholic. ‘That’s what got me here today.’ She is in jail for an assault she committed while drunk, which she deeply regrets.
‘When I’m sober I’m a completely different person to when I drink’, she said. ‘Now I’ve got to live with that and it’s just put me off alcohol – it was my wake-up call for sure.’
Tamsin left school in Year 7, after she was badly bullied for being gay. She has had several stints in psychiatric hospitals. She took part in a residential rehab program but it didn’t work out. ‘I went to rehab but then I come out early and ended up getting drunk … I was round heroin addicts, they were picking on me, trying to get me to sell heroin for them and shit like that – it was just stupid.’
Another time she was referred by a magistrate to drug and alcohol counselling but when she turned up was told she didn’t have to be there, it was her choice. ‘Me being an alcoholic and selfish and what not, I decided not to do it.’
In all, Tamsin has seen more 30 counsellors but she said they hadn’t helped her. She was sick of telling her story and wished that there had been regular support, from just one person. ‘Just that person who would be there no matter what. Who would still come around next day and see that you’re okay. Just a regular, who wanted to get to know me.’ And who’d had experiences like hers.
‘I want to talk to someone who’s been through it, rather than just reads from a book. I just couldn’t relate to any of ’em. It’d be better to talk to someone who said “This is how I dealt with what I went through” … Having someone that cared and someone that had been through it would have made a difference.’
She suggested that ex-prisoners could be ideal candidates for that sort of work, if equipped with the right skills.
‘This could be a good chance to get people like the girls that are in jail, to get them out there, put them through the study they need to do – cause they’ve experienced it – and then that’s providing a job for them, too. Instead of just hiring whoever’s there. Train the girls up in here, while we’re in jail, so we can go out and we can pursue a career.’
She herself would welcome a role as a mentor and advocate for young people.
‘I want to share my story with people, I want to share my crime, I want to share what alcohol and my childhood abuse got me and where it got me. All the cracks I fell through that no one else could see … So someone who’s in my tracks, I could help them before they get to as low as what I was, before I had a wake-up call.’