Adele wasn’t made a ward of the state like her two younger sisters even though she was only six years old and the care arrangement to stay with Mr and Mrs Bennett was made through New South Wales welfare services.
The girls called the Bennetts, ‘Grandma’ and ‘Granddad’ and Adele and her sisters stayed with them for five years until the couple’s retirement. During those five years, Adele was sexually abused by Mr Bennett and his son, Kevin, who was 11 years older than Adele.
Adele told the Commissioner that other children came and went from the home and she was sure that most, including her sisters, were sexually abused. When Mrs Bennett was out and the children were in the care of Mr Bennett, he’d force Adele to perform oral sex on him. Adele knew the behaviour was wrong, but she said it became normalised.
When Kevin raped her, she’d look through the railings on the bed and count back and forth to 10. ‘I just totally switched off. Still to this day I’m learning how to feel things. I didn’t realise I didn’t know how to feel emotion. I just was a robot travelling through life ‘cause I turned off when the abuse happened.’
After leaving the Bennetts in the early 1970s, Adele was placed in a Catholic girls’ home in Sydney, a place she found safe and welcoming. ‘I loved it there. It was the best time of my life.’ However, when she was 13, Adele was taken with her sisters by their mother and mother’s partner to live overseas. Her mother had planned to go without the girls but the partner, whom Adele described as a lovely man, insisted the whole family be together.
Returning to Australia aged 15, Adele went to welfare services who arranged hostel accommodation but ‘it was full of old people’ and didn’t last long. Eventually becoming a nurse, Adele had been in near-continuous employment, working in hospitals throughout Australia.
In the late 1990s at the age of 36, Adele reported her childhood sexual abuse to NSW Police. One of her sisters had disclosed the abuse to their mother who questioned the other girls and then insisted it be reported. Mr Bennett senior had died years earlier, however Kevin was still alive and was committed to stand trial.
The court ordered that all matters - which now included others as well as Adele and her sisters - be heard separately. Asked to nominate specific dates and times for the assaults, Adele struggled. At one stage the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) wanted to withdraw prosecution, but she insisted they continue. Kevin was eventually acquitted of all charges, however Adele said she was heartened by the jury’s note that though they couldn’t find him guilty beyond reasonable doubt, they believed her account.
During the committal hearing, Adele and one of the police officers began a relationship and this was brought up by the defence team in questioning. It ultimately had no bearing on the case proceeding and wasn’t brought up in the trial, but Adele thought it affected the attitude of New South Wales Police towards her case.
Adele said the abuse had a lifelong effect on her trust of people and confidence in herself. She’d been in numerous relationships that were mentally and physically abusive. Incidents at work sometimes triggered flashbacks, but she said good and understanding nursing colleagues and management helped her manage these occasions successfully.
She regretted that a sexual assault counselling service, previously available to her, had been closed due to cessation of government funding and she now paid a private therapist with whom she felt well-supported. ‘Back then, I didn’t understand what was going on and it became second nature.’ What she had perceived as normal, she now knew was not.
‘I’ve done a lot of work on myself and still to this day I have confidence issues around work. Other people are always saying, “Believe in yourself”, but I’m still struggling a little bit with that one.’