I was born in India but I do not know my actual birth date. I always felt strongly and have fleeting memories that I was well loved and cared for in the early part of my life. Around the age of 3 or 4 years old while I was sleeping, a woman stole me from my bed and my family in the night. The details are too much to go into but this link will tell the story of my early years.
I then arrived at Holy Angels Convent in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, in 1974. I was taken very good care of by Catholic Nuns while I lived there. The nuns called me Latha until I was baptized and named Mary Magdalene. The years that I lived at the convent were happy memories for me. I was fed, clothed and educated. We slept on mats and we did not have a lot of material things, but I was happy. I was a lighter skinned young girl than the other children there. They would call me cat but it was never in a mean way that I felt I was being bullied or anything. I was never sexually or physically abused there. One time I remember pulling myself up, and looking over the wall of the convent and saw a house next door with a wonderful swimming pool—when I saw the pool, I wanted one so bad. After that, I went into the huge shower stall and plugged the drain with a cloth and turned on both shower heads full blast so that I could go swimming. For that I got in trouble. The nun tried not to laugh when she went to spank me. Another nun, Sister Mary, had a little dog which was a Pomeranian named Bruni. Bruni was my constant shadow, slept with me every night, and was a constant comfort for me.
One day a man came to take individual photos of a few of us children who were at the orphanage, and I was one of them. A picture that was taken of me had a write up which said Latha likes reading so much that she picks up whatever paper or book she finds and reads. She is clever at studies. She is fond of singing and dancing. On the whole she is a bright child and good at sports. I was then informed a few months later that I was going to be adopted to a wonderful loving family in Canada. Then the preparations started for me to be adopted to Canada. There were five of us girls being adopted out at the same time. We were taken to Madras by train and taken before a judge for the adoption to happen . . . we returned to the convent to wait.
Little did I know then . . . nightmares were dreams too
Then the day came for four of us girls to be sent to Canada. Sister Mary then took us by plane to Madras where we stayed one night in a convent there. The next morning we were taken to the Madras airport. Before Sister Mary before said goodbye to us, she pulled me aside and told me that all my dreams were going to come true in Canada. Little did I know then . . . nightmares were dreams too. We were then put into the care of a woman with a baby on the flight to Canada. This woman accompanied us all the way to Toronto, Ontario, where she had reached her destination to deliver the baby to a couple there. We were then put under the care of the stewardesses for the remainder of the trip to Calgary, Alberta, where we were going to be met by the families that had adopted us.
It was night when we arrived in Calgary and we were met there by the families who had adopted us. I was adopted along with another girl to the same family. We stayed one night in Calgary at a hotel. We were so excited we kept looking at all the lights outside of the hotel. I was beaten by my adoptive mother for that and was told in a mean manner to go to bed. That was my first experience of the evilness of my adoptive parents. The next morning we were taken to McDonald’s and fed an egg McMuffin for breakfast. My body was not used to Western fast food, and I began to vomit as I was eating it. Mrs. Pearce, the adopting mother, then started shoving it down my throat telling me I could be starving in India.
We then left for their house in British Columbia. The Pearce family lived just outside of a small heritage city called Nelson, B.C. I was given the birth date May 18, 1969, even though I have no idea what my real birth date is—so many people take this for granted. Mr. and Mrs. Pearce then changed my name to Vanessa.
I quickly learned and experienced that Mrs. Pearce was a cold and abusive woman and should not have been allowed to have children—let alone animals. I was literally kept in the attic of their home. The attic was freezing cold in the winter and stifling hot in the summer. I could barley even stand up in the room. There was a single bed in there and nothing else—and I mean nothing. Not even a light. I was not allowed in the living room except to clean like a maid. Not allowed to watch TV, touch the fridge or stove. I was not allowed to get out of bed until I was told I could. Everything was very controlled in the household by Mrs. Pearce. All I can say is, prisoners lived better than me. I was always scared and jumpy because I never knew when I would get a beating for no reason.
This is when his sexual abuse of me began and I had no safe place to turn
In the early months even though Mrs. Pearce was cruel, her husband Mr. Pearce was kind to me and would give me books and food when Mrs. Pearce would deny me food for periods of time. The books helped me escape, even temporarily, from my living hell. By being kind to me and providing me books and food, Mr. Pearce earned my trust. Then all of a sudden one day while I was allowed to play the piano he came behind me and grabbed me and he had an erection and started humping against me. This is when his sexual abuse of me began. I had no safe place to turn. Sleep became my only friend—it was the only time I could escape and forget the horror I was going through.
School was not much better. The surrounding communities were predominantly white. I was bullied by children at school for being of a different color than them. I really started to believe that there was something wrong with me and that I was truly unlovable. This especially rang true when Christmas came. All I heard from kids at school was about Santa Claus and how he loved all children. Yet on Christmas day all I found was a note in my stocking saying that I was a bad girl and if I was a better girl the next year, he might bring me something. So, I thought even Santa Claus hated me. I felt I had no place to be safe except when I fell asleep.
Mrs. Pearce dragged me by my hair into the attic and left me there to die
I always felt cold and hungry and I missed India—the convent, the nuns, the warm weather, and being treated kindly. I was finally able to get a letter off to Sister Mary begging her to bring me back to India. She sent a letter back saying she could not bring me back and to say my Hail Marys. After receiving this response from the one person whom I still trusted and thought could keep me safe, I lost all hope. After being beaten again for unknown reasons, I found a can of turpentine and drank it and began to vomit. Mrs. Pearce dragged me by my hair into the attic and left me there to die. Both Mr. and Mrs. Pearce left abruptly in their car. By some miracle I did not die.
Many years later (into my adulthood), I learned from receiving paperwork under the Canadian Freedom of Information and Privacy Act that the Pearce family had been found unfit to adopt me. The detailed documentation said the Pearces had applied to adopt and had not been approved. The government agency’s (Ministry of Human Resources*) documents also said and I quote, “We perceive Mrs. Pearce to be a very controlled, self-insulated person who works hard at projecting an image of strength and competence. We can’t help but speculate about which might happen if her frustration threshold is exceeded. What we are saying is that her mode of interacting strongly suggests a facade of competence/ integration and that basically we perceive a fragile personality where congruences, negative and sexual feelings etc. . are repressed into the unconscious. Her cold unaffectionate nature, her difficulty and discomfort in discussing feelings certainly suggests much repression.”
Sometimes a system defeats us all
Due to the Pearce family having money and importance in the community in various facets, they were allowed to the proceed with the adoption. Then there was a letter written by the regional manger to his boss, from the same government agency, after this decision had been made to permit my adoption and I quote, “Although the decision on placement has been made which is contrary to our recommendation, I do want to acknowledge your concern regarding the probability of outcomes and to say I share these concerns. I also want to say that I do appreciate the time and the quality of effort that you have put into this application. Sometimes a system defeats us all!”
At the age of 14, there were people in the community that knew I was being abused and one of my girlfriends tried to help me and I went to stay at her house. My adoptive family called the police and when the police arrived my friend’s place, her parents told the police that I was being abused and that they were not going to let me go back to the adopted home. The police then called the Ministry of Human Resources and I was then put into foster care by the decision of a Ministry official. One of my girlfriends, Tina, decided to do fostering so that they could keep me. They were very good to me, and I was able to stay there for awhile. Unfortunately for them and me, they had a lot of tragedy in their life with them losing their oldest daughter in a car accident.
I was then moved to another home but I was not happy there and just started hanging on the streets with friends. Then, again, I was moved to another home and the woman there was completely dysfunctional. There were drugs coming in and out of the home, scary looking characters coming and going. During this time, I was raped by a man, who was known to my foster mother, after he offered me a ride home. He was also well known to the police for raping young girls and had a history of that. I became a psychological and emotional mess after this. My mental and emotional state was compounded by the fact that I was now also going to have to go to court over the sexual abuse by my adopted dad. The Crown, (Government) had charged him.
I was then moved into a “special” care foster home which was outside Nelson
Special, meaning a foster home that helped with “troubled” children. The special care foster mother, Joyce Hillstead, was single with grown children that lived on the property. She also owned a convenience store and gas station. She was a very controlling woman. After having been there for about a month, the adult son, Jeff, invited me to his trailer. I was offered free alcohol which any child at 16 would jump at. I then drank so much that I became sick, vomited in the bathroom, and passed out in the hallway. When I came to, I was in his bed, now naked, and he was having sex with me. I then slipped into unconsciousness again.
Due to my previous experience with being abused in my adopted home, all this dysfunction and abuse just became normal to me. I recognized a dominant controlling woman, and her son being a wimp just like Mr. Pearce. This sexual abuse went on for quite some time until I started bleeding heavily for three months and became very sick. Then I was taken for an ultrasound and found out that I was pregnant with twins. I was miscarrying one of the twins and that there was also a large tumor in my uterus. Emergency surgery was performed right away to save my life. The Ministry then learnt what was going on in the foster home. I also learnt, around the same time, I was not the first foster girl he had been having sex with in the special care home. The only exception is I was the only one he had gotten pregnant. I should have been removed from there right away because I was not in the frame of mind to be making such decisions due to my past abuse.
Again into my adulthood, more paperwork involving the Ministry surfaced. Two other Ministry case workers had found this family to have problems and they had suggested to my case worker that I should be removed from the house right away. The advisement was ignored. I remained in the house.
I then became pregnant again and then it was decided by the Ministry and the family, that I would be married to the adult son of the foster mother. My case worker signed over “guardianship” of me to this family and essentially “washed their hands of me”.
More incriminating information
A few months before the wedding, the Ministry’s law firm sent a letter with articles from the lawyers weekly giving my case worker a warning of a former foster girl who had sued the Crown for a failed adoption placement, being sexually abused in a foster home, and that she was not able to give consent. Of course this was ignored by my case worker and the wedding took place.
After the marriage my life became a true living hell. I had no family to turn to for support or help. I would be locked up in the trailer and abused by members of this twisted family who would tell me that my biological family had sacrificed me to the devil. They tied me up one time and poured hot oil on me to do an exorcism.
Once my son Matthew was born and I arrived back at the property I lived on with the other members of my husband’s family, the sister and family were over and they forced me onto the couch with my son. The sister of my husband, Jessica, yelled at me saying that my son was cursed because he had long eyelashes and it was because I was a Jezebel. This horrifying abuse continued for a long time.
My husband was also, by this time, a physically abusive alcoholic. I finally could not take it anymore and after being beaten by him again one night, he went and put two bottles of over-the-counter sleeping pills in front of me and told me to kill myself and then left. I finally gave up and thought my life would always just be full of abuse and that things would never change so I took the two bottles of sleeping pills. This was in 1989. I then went and laid down in the bed and I knew I was about to die.
I saw that tunnel with a light and it just kept getting brighter and brighter. All of a sudden my son Matthew who always slept through the night woke up and let out a scream which slammed me back into my body. I knew I had to live for him and could not leave him alone in this freakish hell. I crawled into the bathroom and started vomiting and blood started to fill up in the toilet. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital in Castlegar (about 40 minutes from the house).
It seemed as though everyone in a position to help me thought I was the crazy one
When the doctor came to see me I begged him to help me and told him I was being abused. I told him how I was being locked up and being beaten. He told me that I was going to be admitted to the psych ward in Trail (another 30 minutes away). I was terrified because everyone thought I was crazy. I made it to a payphone in the hallway and made a collect call to my foster parents who had been good to me a few years prior. They were already aware of the abuse I was going through, so after talking to me they made a call to make sure I was not going to be committed to the psych ward. I was still sent to the Trail psychiatric unit for one night. While I was there, I was told that I was pregnant again. I told the psychiatrist about the abuse I was going through and asked for help. I simply could not have another baby under these circumstances. There was no help offered and the police were never even called. It seemed as though everyone in a position to help me thought I was the crazy one. . . . if they only knew the truth.
Instead, I was sent back to this crazy family and then sent for counseling through the Ministry’s mental health division. I told the counselor, with my husband there, about the abuse I was undergoing at his hands, as well as members of his family. My husband sat there and admitted to abusing me. I then told the counselor that I could not have another baby under these circumstances. Again, I was not listened to and the decision was made for me that I was keeping my baby and then that they were going to sterilize me after. Then after the birth of my son I was sterilized. I was only 21 years old. This is the wonderful country, Canada, that Sister Mary told me that all my dreams were going to come true and yes the nightmare was continuing.
The abuse at the hands of my husband and the members of his family continued and I knew I had to find a way out.
Through the help of a friend, I was able to escape this family with my two boys who were 2 and 4 at the time. The next day, after staying the night at my friend’s place, I went for a meeting with a case worker that I used to have. I told her everything I had gone through and she then went to the Ministry’s case worker because my friend was not a case worker. She told them they had to help me because I had no family. They told her not to get involved and to stay away from me. . I couldn’t understand why the Ministry wouldn’t help me in my time of need.
I then was able to get a legal aid lawyer and file for divorce and for custody of my children. If I had known better I would never have gone back to Nelson and should have completely fled from the area with my children.
During the court case for my divorce, there was a lot of information that started coming out about this special care foster home. Other children who had been there as well as other people started to come forward with equally horrific stories as mine. The Ministry case workers knew they had to cover up this mess they created, and had to make sure this “can of worms,” as they called it, never was opened. They did everything in their power to start covering everything up, back-peddling, and to make me and my children look like the villains. More and more, they continued to look after their own best interests.
In October 1992, both my boys were sexually assaulted during their court-ordered weekend visit at their father’s house—which was still on the same property as the foster home. The doctor that examined the children was very concerned and called the police as well as the Ministry. The doctor said the damage that was done to one of my sons anal area was compared to him taking a fall off a high story building and landing on a sharp object that went straight through his anal area. The older of my sons also told the doctor that it was his uncle, Ken Hillstead, who had done this to them. The police told me that the children did not have to go out for any more visits and to call the police if the uncle showed up at my door.
The doctor noticed a cigarette burn by my sons private area
Then overnight everything changed and I was told that my children would have to continue to go out for their weekend access and I had to let them go. (I was misled by the police the prior night as they were not fully aware of the court-ordered visits and I believed with the evidence they witnessed, they would back me up). This time after their access visit at their father’s, the doctor noticed a cigarette burn by my son’s private area. I tried everything I could to protect my children but the police threatened to charge me with public mischief if I opened my mouth again about the abuse of my children even though there were doctors reports confirming this.
I told the police then to charge me because I was not going to keep quiet about the abuse my children were going through. The police backed off—their scare tactics weren’t working on me. Then a week later, when I was at the court house I had two credible sources tell me that the uncle who had raped my boys had been paid $60,000 tax free to become a drug informant. The uncle did not get charged for what he had done to my precious boys. Not long after this there was a massive drug bust and people that were known as this uncle’s associates were arrested for drug trafficking. (coincidence? of a massive bust, or was the $60,000 paying off for officials?)
There continued to be reports of physical and sexual abuse of my children by my, now, ex-husband and members of his family made by professionals and non professionals but nothing was being done. The court-ordered visits still stood and I could not, for the life of me, get that order lifted. Instead, the cover-up continued. I was frustrated, angry, and hysterical at times that my sons were going through a similar hell I had gone through, that I had so desperately tried to protect them from. No one with authority to stop this sick and twisted abuse of my children would help! Eventually, the school my children attended also made reports of physical abuse by the father and members of his family. My sons were apprehended and then the uncle who had raped my boys was allowed to pick the psychologist to come a do an assessment and report.
Dr. Peggy Koopman came and made a report saying the children were not being abused
A woman by the name of Dr. Peggy Koopman came and made a report saying the children were not being abused and she even made up blatant lies. The professionals (doctors, teachers, etc.) who had been interviewed by her were so upset with what she said to them. Even though none of the abuse allegations had been made against me, or about me, all the compiled information about the ongoing abuse was used to take my children away from me.
There were all kinds of lies to make me look bad and for the Ministry to meet their agenda which was to cover up their ongoing incompetent actions regarding my case/situation, and to shut me up. It was easy for them to do this, as I had no family or true close friends for support. I felt so alone and felt like an outsider as I was a woman of colour in a predominantly white community. I was warned before bringing to the forefront, my children’s abuse, to shut my mouth about it and if I didn’t, the Ministry and the police would be sure to make my life even more miserable than what it already was.
I have gathered insurmountable documentation and evidence to back up everything I have stated here
It was not until my oldest son, Matthew, turned 14, he was legally able to make the choice along with my younger son to live with me. Last year (2012), had to be THE most difficult and most sad year in my life—my oldest son, Matthew, died. The year before he died, he told me that he wanted to sue The ministry as well as the police for all the abuse that we had gone through. I made my son Matt a promise just to give me a little bit of time and that I would take care of it but my time ran out for him to witness the justice I had promised. This is the beginning of my promise to Matthew. . . . .making this information public.
In 2006, I started advocating for adoptees and I continue to do so actively and passionately. I want to end the myth that adoption ALWAYS leads to a better life. It has to be recognised that like aboriginal children who were taken away from their parents and forced into residential schools . . . abused international adoptees have also been taken from their countries, lose their culture, and many face sexual, physical and mental abuse as well.
In closing. . . . that special care foster home that I had to endure for so many years, was eventually shut down due to the poor and illegal conduct of the special care foster mother’s adult children.
Over the number of years fighting for justice for me and my children, I have gathered insurmountable documentation and evidence to back up everything I have stated here. I am not one to sling mud without proof. The racism, the illegal adoption to unfit parents, the years of abuse many children suffer at the hands of our abusers must stop! In addition, the abuse by the corrupt and incompetent system in place to protect children and families needs to be exposed for its drastic shortcomings so that it does not happen to anyone else. This is also my mission. Those that have done and continue to do wrong to indefensible children shall be held accountable, if it the last thing I do here on earth.
I would like to finish with a quote from Frederick Douglass: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
*The government agency that handles adoptions, and is in charge of children welfare in British Columbia, is now called The Ministry of Child and Family.