Toni’s grandparents were ‘good people’, taking care of Toni after her mother abandoned her when she was two. Seven years later, her mother took custody of Toni again, and she and her partner were abusive. They’d lock Toni out of the house for days at a time, and put padlocks on the fridge and cupboards so she could not access food. Toni’s stepfather would walk around naked in front of her, fondling his genitals, and pin her to the ground so that his penis waved in her face. Eventually her mother relinquished care of her again and, although her grandparents were happy to take her back, she ended up in state care.
At the age of 12 Toni was made a state ward, and sent to a Brisbane ‘youth hospital’. This institution used a medical model to treat children who had mental health needs, or had been in trouble with the law, as well as those who were homeless. Toni was forced to undergo gynaecological examinations, which she referred to as ‘rape by medical instruments’, during which she was held down by male officers. She was made to shower in front of male and female staff. Sometimes she was stripped naked and drugged, then locked inside the ‘tantrum room’ at night.
Staff pinched her nipples and slapped her bottom at every opportunity, and she lived in constant fear of being raped by male officers (which she knew had happened to other girls). Older girls would corner her in the shower or hallway, rubbing up against her and trying to kiss her. She was also subjected to physical abuse.
Toni reported all of the abuse to anyone who would listen. This included her social workers, who did not take any action. After she told her grandparents, her grandfather went to see the matron about it, but was rebuffed.
After eight months at the home, Toni was placed with a foster family in a regional town. This family ran a business, and would make Toni work there, as well as doing all of their housework. They did not feed Toni properly or pay her, and she would have sex with a local man so he would buy her a counter meal at the pub.
On leaving this foster placement, Toni was returned to the children’s home, then back to live with her mother. She didn’t last long there, because of the sexual abuse by her stepfather. Unable to settle anywhere, she led a transient lifestyle.
Toni was still under state care when she was living on the streets, which her social worker was aware of. She was gang raped at 14. She reported the attack to police, who advised her that the perpetrators were ‘good boys from good families’, and nothing good would come from taking them to court.
When she was 15, Toni was living with a boy at her mother’s house, and became pregnant. The police threatened to charge her boyfriend with ‘carnal knowledge’, and ‘ran him out of town’. She was visited by a social worker, who at first tried to force her to terminate the pregnancy, and then attempted to take the baby from her care.
Despite this, Toni raised her child for the first two years of his life. This was very hard as she was not eligible for any kind of single parent payment, or unemployment benefits. Her own mother then took on his care, and Toni believed he was abused during this time. He came back to her in his early teens, with severe behavioural problems, and later died in an accident.
Toni spoke to the Royal Commission about the impact of the sexual abuse she experienced. Being forced to undergo medical procedures at the home has left her very wary of going to doctors or dentists, and she often misses necessary healthcare appointments. She has troubles with authority figures, and her difficulties trusting others means it is hard to form lasting relationships. Not getting a proper education left Toni doing lower paid work, and she has spent most of her life on the poverty line.
A psychiatrist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Accessing appropriate mental health support has been difficult. Toni was once involuntarily placed in a mental health facility after taking an overdose. The practitioner there was not interested in discussing her history of sexual abuse, which she recognised as a significant contributing factor, but only the circumstances immediately preceding this event. Toni also attempted to engage with counselling through a major support service. As she lives in a regional area her only option was phone counselling, which she did not find useful.
Toni received compensation from a Queensland government redress scheme. She did not have any assistance during the process to write up relevant documents, or access to medical certificates or other evidence, and so was only awarded the basic payment. When she reported the abuse by her stepfather to police, he had already been convicted of other child sexual offences. The police did not think it was a good idea to proceed with the matter due to his ill-health and age, so Toni decided against doing so.
Toni told the Commission she did ‘not know how to give in or give up’. She wanted to tell her story, particularly about the abuse at the hospital, as ‘a lot of our people are dead or in jail or in psych wards, so there’s not a lot that can come forward’.