Growing up in a regional area during the 1990s Tennille needed specialist medical attention which was not available locally. When she was around 12 years old she was sent to stay in a children’s home in Sydney while she received treatment. This home was run by a secular charity, and she would usually be there for a couple of weeks at a time.
Initially Tennille was excited about visiting the home as it meant being away from her abusive, alcoholic mother. The children slept in dormitories, separate ones for girls and boys. She remembers being instructed to sleep naked with her female friends there – ‘it was just certain nights when certain people were on’ – and being made to have sexual interactions with some of the girls.
The children were taken to nudist beaches by staff (who also watched them in the showers), and would be made to stand ‘buck naked’ in front of others. Tennille witnessed the abuse and neglect of other children there too.
Previously a well-behaved student, Tennille’s behaviour deteriorated immediately after the abuse. At this time she started taking illicit drugs, particularly speed, and her amphetamine use led to an improvement in her grades.
‘The moment I got on that I was fine, I felt nothing ... I literally used it for a learning tool and studied continuously.’
Tennille has ‘shut a lot of things out’, and finds managing and regulating her emotions difficult. She became homeless and lived on the streets, and has been involved in a number of abusive relationships.
The first disclosure she made about the abuse at the home was to her father as an adult. ‘He was crying and that sort of thing, and that’s where the conversation ended ... I never mentioned it again.’ It was hard for her to tell anyone else after this, but now ‘my parents have passed away so it’s a little bit easier’.
Tennille is currently incarcerated for violent offences against a person who hurt her kids. Recently she had a breakdown and was prescribed anti-depressant medication, and she is engaged with counselling through an organisation that provides support for women in prison. She had not previously thought about applying for compensation, but is considering doing so now as the money would be useful for her children.