Tansy’s childhood was spent in Western Australia, where her parents moved around a lot. ‘They were bad drug addicts’, she told the Commissioner. As a six-year-old in the early 1990s, she and her younger sisters were made wards of the state and placed in the care of Belle and Peter Ritchie.
There was little to be thankful for in their new home. Peter Ritchie was a racist, and the children were Aboriginal. He victimised Tansy in particular because her skin was much darker than that of her siblings. ‘I wasn’t even allowed to play with my sisters … [He] called me black bitch, black dog’, Tansy recalled.
When she was seven, Tansy ran away, and found her way back to her mother. Her mother called the police. There began a string of different placements, with Tansy moving between foster homes, kinship care and her mother’s place. She didn’t stay anywhere for long. She was physically and emotionally abused and also repeatedly sexually abused.
Throughout these years Tansy tried reporting what was happening to her but she was never believed. After the Ritchies, she and her sisters were placed with another couple, where they were often hungry and regularly beaten. In Year 3 by now, Tansy told her teacher, who alerted their welfare officer. This led to a meeting between Tansy, the welfare officer and the foster mother, Susan Pattinson, who said Tansy had made up allegations because she was angry.
‘The [Department of Child Protection] lady said “Oh, that’s all right, I thought it was something like that”’, Tansy recalled.
‘They never acted on anything.’
Eventually Tansy was removed from the Pattinsons and sent to stay with her Uncle Leo and Auntie Irene, and after that with her Auntie Shar. At her Auntie Shar’s place she was sexually abused by her cousin’s boyfriend, who ‘messed around’ with her for several years. She finally told her aunt and cousin. They were furious and accused her of lying.
Tansy also lived on and off with her Uncle Charles and Auntie Winnie and their family, for short term stays between other placements. Uncle Charles molested her for about five years, at his home and her aunties’ homes, beginning when she was about six.
‘My mum, another auntie and his wife and the kids would go out and they’d leave me behind; I’d run after them begging to go too - I was the only child left there’, Tansy said. ‘They’d never take me; they’d always leave me. And then he would come and grab me – he’d chase me round the backyard and then he’d take me inside.’
Eventually – Tansy’s not quite sure how – the police got involved. Medical evidence supported her account and charges were going to be pressed against Uncle Charles. But she came under intense pressure from her family to withdraw her complaint. ‘My aunties said if I didn’t it would cause a family feud and I’d get a hiding.’
A counsellor Tansy was seeing knew she was being bullied into withdrawing her allegations, and tried to help her. But in the end Tansy gave in and the charges were dropped.
Tansy managed to stay at school through Year 8 but after just a few weeks of Year 9 she was living on the streets, using drugs and self-harming. ‘That’s when I fell into prostitution.’ She had some contact with the Department of Child Protection: ‘DCP kept telling me to go back to my auntie – [I said] I’m not going back there to be abused again - when I told them about my cousin’s boyfriend messing around with me all the time … they didn’t believe me’, she said.
Tansy spent most of her teenage years out on the street. ‘I was young … I was so stuffed up and on drugs and DCP wasn’t there for me at all.’ She met an older man and lived on his boat for a while. She thought of him as a father figure but woke up one night to find him on top of her. It turned out he’d been drugging her and sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious. He was eventually jailed for his crimes against her.
Tansy ended up in jail as well. ‘[There was] a lot of violence, a lot of stealing – just to try and live and survive’, she explained. ‘It’s really fucked me up, my past.’
A turning point came with the birth of her son, while she was in jail. ‘He put love back in my heart – I didn’t know how to love, that’s for sure’. After her release she moved inter-state. She has a partner now, and has a second child with him.
‘It’s been very hard for him because I have bad nightmares and bad trauma and I kick and scream in my sleep because I think my uncle’s there and I attack him. He has to hold me down’, Tansy said. She takes medication for depression, anxiety and psychosis. She regrets her lack of education and wishes she could open a drop-in centre for street kids – the sort of place that might have helped her.
Her children are her ‘pride and joy’, she said. She wants to give them a better life than the one she had.
‘They really let us down’, she told the Commissioner. ‘They took me from an abusive home and were meant to be giving me a better home. But what they done is help destroy me.’