Venessa’s parents separated when she was young and she spent most of her childhood living with her violent mother in rural Victoria.
‘My mother was a very abusive mother. Like even before I was in care stuff happened. Her husband molested and raped me and my brother. I was eight, he was six … He hasn’t been charged and my mother told me that if I was to press charges that she would kill me.’
In the early 1990s when she was 11, Venessa was made a ward of the state after her head was split open by her mother. From then on until she was 18, Venessa was moved by the Department of Human Services (DHS) between different foster homes, children’s hostels and her grandmother’s home.
As an 11-year-old Venessa was living with her grandmother when she was abused by her cousins. ‘My nan’s cousin’s kids, they were pretty promiscuous boys. And me being at that age they thought that they could do anything they wanted pretty much.’ Venessa told her uncle about the abuse who ‘tried to do everything to protect me’ and ‘flogged’ the boys. The police were never contacted and no report was made.
Later Venessa was returned to her mother’s care in spite of her history of violence. During the night her mother’s partner climbed into her bed and molested her. Venessa told her mother, but ‘she didn’t believe me. She called me a lying black slut’. Venessa tried to tell DHS workers about the abuse but ‘nothing was done’.
‘I gave up on welfare because I felt like I was just talking to brick walls.’
From the age of eight, Venessa was given alcohol by her mother, and after just a few years she’d become an alcoholic. Because of being constantly moved around different home environments and back to her abusive mother, Venessa’s education suffered, she became addicted to heroin and found herself in a violent relationship, which she was finally able to leave after her grandmother convinced her to move back in with her.
‘I only completed Year 10. I was encouraged to do Year 11 … but I was in my first serious relationship when I was 16, and he was a violent man. He raped me on a couple occasions because I didn’t want to sleep with him. And he was older.’
Venessa was able to tell her grandmother about the abuse she experienced, ‘and she believed me’, but did not go into any great detail for fear of upsetting her. When Venessa was 22 her grandmother, who ‘was my world’, passed away. From then on Venessa was able to access counselling but found it to be unhelpful and gave up on it.
Now the mother of four, Venessa is currently serving time in prison while her own children have been placed in foster care.
‘At the moment my kids are in care. And my daughter’s at the age where it all started with me, and I’m worried about that … I just want my babies home with me. I want to protect them, you know. I don’t want them going through what I had to go through, ‘cause I had a fucked up life.’
Venessa has flashbacks and nightmares about the abuse she experienced. ‘Things are popping up in my mind that I thought I’d forgotten about.’ She has never reported the perpetrators to the police nor sought compensation. ‘No amount of money could take back what’s been taken from me.’
Venessa believes that parents who have spent time in foster care as children should be given more support so that they can go on to be successful parents themselves.
‘I’d like them to actually help the mothers … If I had the support of DHS they would never have been taken from me … We don’t have the support from that age. We don’t know what to do when it happens to us as adults. And our kids are gonna go through the same thing.'
‘Every single DHS worker should be trained to be culturally aware when they deal with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island kids. Because they are so ignorant. Their families are not like ours and they need to see that … I want my kids to be proud of who they are and know who their clan is.'
‘It’s stuffed me up mentally and emotionally. I find it hard to trust a male because of everything I’ve been through … I need to heal.’
Venessa has been able to access social support in prison, which has been helpful. She is also undertaking a hospitality course and hopes to become a chef once released. In spite of a history of mistrust and resentment, Venessa and her father are making efforts to rebuild their relationship.
‘Me and my dad, we didn’t have a good relationship when I was growing up. We’d always fight because I’d blame him too for not being there to protect me. But as I’ve gotten older it’s better. We’re starting to have a father daughter relationship.'
‘I want it to stop. I don’t want kids to be abused at all. It’s wrong and I want the people that’ve done it to be held accountable. Because I am angry. I have a lot of anger towards the people that’ve done it to me.’