Warning: this story contains details of sexual abuse and violence.
A woman who ended seven months in home detention for a series of arson earlier this year says her time in a welfare home as a child and the abuse she faced there have affected her life ever since.
Donna Te Wahia Tipa, 59, does not attribute responsibility for the arson to an abusive childhood, but believes she did play a role.
In 2020, the woman from Palmerston, North Otago admitted to a representative arson charge, which included setting fire to some of her neighbors’ trees, plants and a hedge.
He ended his house arrest in June this year after spending it in a caravan.
Wahia Tipa said that she had lost her second husband to cancer after taking care of him. Then she took to drinking to console herself, ended up losing her friends and feeling very isolated.
She said she was taking an anti-smoking drug, along with other medications, and didn’t remember much, saying she lost the plot.
She describes her early life as quite harsh and abusive.
“Beaten, abandoned, violent, rejected.”
Her father left the family when she was four years old.
She said it was then that her mother became abusive to her.
“It was pretty horrible, it was verbally abusive, and over the years it went from bad to worse.”
Tipa was sent to therapy at age four because her mother claimed she was the problem.
“She claimed that I was an unruly child.”
The abuse escalated as she grew older.
“He would hit me. He would put a cloth in my mouth to shut me up so that the neighbors couldn’t hear. It would start with a jug chord, a wooden spoon and then the dog chain. He would hit me with that, with a cloth in my mouth and then she would tell me to go turn on the hot faucet in the bathroom and then physically force me into that hot bath to cover the bruises. “
She was also hit with a breadboard.
Tipa complained to her teachers but they didn’t believe her.
“They believed her because my mother was clean, her house was clean. She was a lonely mother with two children. She told them that I was a compulsive liar, that I was exaggerating and that my injuries were self-inflicted.”
Welfare did visit the house, but once again Tipa said that they believed her mother more than her.
Her mother told them that because she kept running, she was an uncontrollable child.
Social Welfare removed her from her home at the age of 12, but did not place her under state ward because a judge said there was no reason to do so.
Despite this, she was sent to the Strathmore Girls’ Home in Christchurch, where she spent the next three years.
“I was innocent, naive, I didn’t know anything about drugs, alcohol, swearing, tattoos, violence, apart from what my mother did, and they locked me in a cell.”
She said the girls were taken for medical inspections.
The examinations included vaginal and breast checks.
“This happened quite a bit.”
After a while, he began to resist the exams.
“Fighting, but then you get to the stage where you know the routine and you give up, you just let him do what he does and then he gives up on you and finds someone else.”
Tipa said that she had been raped, long before this, when she was very young and it seemed that what was happening was also rape.
Being carried upstairs after first arriving at the house, she received what she said was a massive hiding place from the other girls.
“They beat me against a window, they used hairbrushes, they trashed me and that was welcome in the girls’ house.
“They teach you a lesson about not narrating, you don’t say anything, you shut your mouth and all that kind of thing.”
He said he was scared at first.
“Over the years I became aware of what the situation was and how it is lived there. I spent three years there. I escaped once and I remember that the cook came to look for me and told me that if I did not return my time would be extended, so it was.
“There was a top bitch there. She says what you do, you jump, you jump. If you hit someone following her instructions, that’s what you do. After the welcome with the big party, you might have a couple of hiding places after that. because he made a slip or said something he shouldn’t have said or something like that. “
He said there was no physical violence by staff.
She said that learning to survive at home was essential.
“I got institutionalized. I got the education to take pages out of a Bible and dry tea leaves for smoking. Using ink from a ballpoint pen to make tattoos. Smoking, swearing, ending up hitting other people. I ended up becoming like that because that was the way. of survive.
“You cannot survive if you are an innocent little girl. I don’t know how to do all those things. You have to be among them to join them and survive in that environment.”
Tipa said that she had lived on the streets and that it was better than being at home with her mother or at the girls’ home.
“I learned how to clean, eat, stay warm and be safe. I wasn’t safe at home and I wasn’t safe at the girls’ house.”
Leaving the Strathmore Girls’ Home at the age of 15, she got a job.
“I walked there every day very proud. I earned my way out of that place [the girls’ home]. “
Tipa said the long-term effects of her time in state attention had been far-reaching.
“I had no education, none. I never had any identity from my culture. I never had a counselor to talk to about my problems regarding my mother or the separation from my mother, father or sister or to talk about how I was doing.” treaty.
“There was no support for me. They treated me like a criminal and yet the person who started it all is still out there. My mother is still alive and I am not talking to her because she will not confess anything. That. My father is not alive. “.
Now 59, he has worked most of his adult life.
She was married to her first husband for 18 years and had four children and it was a violent marriage.
“All I knew was violence and that’s all I knew about love.”
She remarried and was with her husband for 20 years, but lost him to cancer.
He said he was back in the system now because he committed a crime.
“I have given up now. I feel like the system and the government have won.”
She said that no one would hire her because of her conviction and that she was now receiving an invalid benefit.
Looking back at her early life, she feels that no one has heard her.
“They punished me for … trying to protect myself. The girls ‘home never did anything for me and neither did my mother. But the system I remember very well that when I went to court and the judge told me that we can’ I’ll make you a state ward because there is no reason, but you have to go to the girls’ house.
“I did not understand what it was and I have suffered from a lack of education, pride, they have stripped me of everything, they raped me, they abused me in that girls’ home. I had to learn another way to survive through the girls who were there. They taught me something, but it never should have been. They never had a social worker there to talk to. They didn’t even have a priest. They didn’t have a school. That was a joke. “
This is the first time that Tipa talks about her early life in state care.
He has not yet reached out to the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care to share his story, but says he intends to do so.
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