Winona was seven years old when her mother passed away in a car accident, and from that day onwards her life spiralled downwards. Before long her brothers were sent to live with other relatives and her father began molesting her, calling her a ‘frigid bitch’ and other names when she avoided being touched by him.
She started running away from home and gained a reputation as a difficult child. ‘I pretty much wanted to escape the abuse from my father.’
Winona’s father remarried, and her new stepmother was controlling, verbally abusive, and did not want her around. She continued to run away, which gave her father cause to have her made a Victorian state ward.
‘I ran away more than three times to different family members. They’d ring up my father and give him a hard word and he’d ring up the police and say “Get a protection order because she’s run away, my uncontrollable child”.’
Winona was around 12 years old when her father relinquished her to the care of the state. It was the mid-1980s, and she was immediately sent to a girl’s detention centre – where she was placed in the same building as girls who had committed serious crimes.
‘Why are they sticking girls that are in need of care, that have been abused by their parents, why are they in the same building as girls that have done robberies, burglaries, shootings, all sorts?’
At the remand centre, Winona found a ‘hierarchy of bullying’. Staff would encourage the older girls to help control the younger ones, which usually involved intimidation and violence. On one occasion, three bigger girls pinned Winona to the ground and were about to sexually assault her when a staff member entered the room and prevented anything further from happening.
During shower time girls would have to line up naked in order to get shampoo and conditioner from the staff on duty. These staff included Rob Norris, who was not meant to be in the shower section but was not removed.
Norris would make lewd comments to the girls, who would have to hold out their hands for shampoo and were therefore unable to cover themselves. Winona felt powerless and unable to stop this from happening.
Although there was a school onsite at the centre, Winona was rarely allowed attend, and when she did the lessons involved sewing clothes and manufacturing items for sale. Her father never came to see her and she was frequently emotionally abused by the staff.
‘I was always told I was not quite right, I’d never add up to anything, that I’d always be a prostitute, a drug addict probably for the rest of my life because I didn’t know how to do anything but.’
Winona found that escaping from the remand centre was quite easy, and she would frequently abscond. Every time she was returned she would be forced to undergo an invasive vaginal examination, and receive injections of Depo-Provera to prevent pregnancy.
The contraceptive did not work however, and Winona became pregnant at 13 and again at 15. One of her pregnancies ended due to miscarriage and the other was terminated without her consent. ‘I didn’t have much choice.’ The procedure was poorly performed and resulted in over half of her cervix being removed.
During one of Winona’s escape attempts she was raped. When she was 15 she ran away into the city and met a man who promised to look after her.
‘Ended up with this bloke called Dan Locke. He became my boyfriend so to speak, and said that “I’ll look after you, just go lie on your back for half an hour and you’ll have a room to sleep in”. Ended up being my pimp, and he got me into speed to keep me awake so I could work more to make more money for him.’
At 18 Winona was released from the detention centre. She experienced eight miscarriages due to the damage to her cervix, but was eventually able to have children after medical treatment. Currently receiving the unemployment allowance, Winona’s children have all been removed from her by child protection, and she feels like she is still a ward of the government.
Winona has never reported the abuse to the police nor sought compensation. She has obtained her welfare records but notes that there are entries that are inconsistent with her experience.
‘A lot of the stuff in my file has been reworded and changed the meaning of, doesn’t kind of make sense. It’s like they’ve tried to reword my file to make them look not so bad and I was the problem.’