In the mid-1970s, when Vicky was 13 years old, she first disclosed that her stepfather had been abusing her. It all came out because of a sex-ed class. During the class, the teacher started talking about ‘loving relationships’ and the idea was so alien to Vicky’s experience that she ‘sort of lost the plot a bit. So I thought, okay, “Are they wrong or am I wrong?”’
Vicky reported the abuse to her principal who contacted police. She said that the teachers and police handled the complaint well. They removed her from the house and put her into temporary care. She was then assigned a caseworker who filed a report stating that there was ‘visual evidence of an unhealthy relationship between me and my stepfather’. The report recommended that Vicky never be returned to her stepfather’s care.
Then it all fell apart. The report was ignored. Vicky was assessed by a psychologist who saw her lack of emotion not as a symptom of trauma, but as a sign that she was lying.
‘I was given no counselling, because they didn’t believe us. I was returned home because they decided that I was not in any danger, and the abuse just escalated.’
It continued for about half a year. Then, ‘one of the three or four last times that he abused me he told me that he wasn’t my real father. I didn’t know up until then, really. And then that started a big argument and he was like, “Well you can bugger off back to the welfare”’.
Vicky was sent to a state run girls’ home. It was supposed to be a short stay while the Department organised a foster placement, but the weeks dragged on and eventually Vicky and some other kids ran away. During this time she committed her first offence – ‘stealing or something’ – and was sent to a juvenile justice centre. Vicky said there was still no counselling or support offered.
‘They didn’t talk about or didn’t help us with what we’d just been through to get to there. Even though it was really messed up, looking at it now I still think I could have had a chance of being a lot different if that didn’t just lead on and on, if that had of still been contained, not allowed to just go into the system.’
Vicky got involved in crime and prostitution and was in and out of the centre many times over the next few years. When she went home she was abused by her stepfather again and had to witness him physically assaulting her mother.
There was abuse inside the centre as well. Girls were made to stand in the corner for hours and were beaten if they slumped or leaned against the wall. The staff sometimes denied them essential items like tampons. Vicky said they also experimented on the girls with contraceptive drugs and as a result some of the girls gave birth to stillborn or deformed babies.
There was sexual abuse too. When Vicky was about 16 she ‘ended up getting involved in a sexual relationship’ with one of the workers. She saw it as a means of self-protection. The relationship enabled her to gain privileges and avoid the attentions of another staff member who was known for abusing the girls.
Vicky was out of the centre at 18. Then she got involved in ‘a really horrible thing’ where a man died. She was charged and sent to an adult prison.
The turning point in her life happened about 10 years later.
‘I’d sunk that low that I didn’t think I could go possibly any further. I couldn’t stand my own voice, I couldn’t stand the hatred that was coming out of me. Around that time I realised that if I didn’t escape then, I was going to be stuck like that.’
Vicky was pregnant at the time. She decided she had to do everything she could to ‘give her child a chance’. She straightened herself out and raised her son in jail until she was released.
Vicky has faced many hardships since then. She received no support from child welfare and did the best she could on her own.
‘Every parenting book I could get a hold of, I read. I looked at normal families and thought, “Oh, that’s what I want to do”. But when your experiences aren’t really in there, something’s missing.’
Several years ago, she went through a redress process while struggling with some major health problems at the same time. It was tough.
‘I hit the bottle real bad. Numerous times overdosed. I don’t even know, some of those times, if I really wanted to die. I felt like I wanted to die, but I just wanted to go to sleep for a long period of time.’
Vicky’s son, now in his early 20s, became her carer.
‘He chose to be there with me and looked after me and put up with all my nonsense – trying to stab myself with a syringe in the neck, pulling machetes on people, absolutely losing it.’
Vicky’s health has since improved and she’s now receiving ongoing counselling and support. In her recommendations to the Commissioner, she emphasised the importance of recognising survivors of child abuse as a unique group who need specialised treatment and care.
Vicky’s stepfather died several years ago. She visited him while he was in hospital.
‘My sister and my brother didn’t want me to go see him. They thought I was going to knock him off. I was. I was going there to do exactly that. I sat outside, I waited for the nurse to leave, I looked at the oxygen thing, I said, “I’m going to knock this bloke on the head, I’m going to put him into hell”’.
But when she went in there, Vicky realised that her stepfather was now just a helpless old man. She ended up feeding him his food.
‘I was not what he tried to turn me into or keep me into. I was so proud of myself … I thought, “Nup, you haven’t got me”.’