Alexandra's story

Alexandra was less than six months old when she was removed from her mother and made a ward of the state in Victoria. She was initially placed in a Catholic-run children’s home where she spent the first five years of her life from the early 1960s onwards.

Alexandra has significant physical health issues. ‘I was always a problem child. They couldn’t look after me and control my temper and anger’, which were a result of these issues.

Once she reached school age Alexandra began attending lessons, where she was frequently beaten by her teachers. Her health issues were considered a behavioural problem, and if they affected her schooling she was still forced to struggle through and catch up each day.

At the children’s home the staff, who were mostly nuns, frequently beat children for misbehaving. Most of Alexandra’s ‘misbehaviour’ was due to her health problems. If Alexandra wet the bed, staff would pull the top sheet over her head and pin it to the pillow, trapping her underneath while the other children ate breakfast.

At five years old Alexandra was transferred to a facility for children with intellectual disabilities where she stayed until she was 21. Staff there threatened to hit the children with a thick leather belt that had been cut short to be more painful. Another common form of punishment was to make the children kneel in front of the fireplace with their hands on their heads for up to two hours at a time.

In January of each year the children attended a holiday camp. On one of these trips Mr Bourke, a carer, was left to look after the children while the other staff went to the pub.

When Mr Bourke took her up to her bedroom, he made her undress in front of him and he began to molest her. He then took her into the bathroom, where he made her masturbate him. She found this confusing and distressing. After the abuse finished, Mr Bourke threatened that she would never attend camp again if she told anyone.

‘I was frightened, I was only six years old … I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong. I didn’t know, I was only a little kid.’

When she was eight years old a staff member approached Alexandra in the dining hall to inform her that her mother had died. Up to this point Alexandra didn’t know she had a family, and she became upset that her mother died without knowing her. Alexandra cried throughout dinner time and couldn’t eat, but instead of being provided with support she was sent to bed early as punishment.

Mr Henkel was the staff member in charge of the front office. One day Alexandra went to ask him if she and the other girls could go swimming. Mr Henkel told Alexandra they could all go swimming if she did him a ‘favour’, which involved her going down to his office and pulling her pants down to get herself ‘ready’.

When Mr Henkel entered the office he locked the door and then proceeded to sexually abuse Alexandra while making her masturbate him. After ejaculating into his handkerchief, Mr Henkel told Alexandra that none of the girls would be allowed to go swimming again if she told anyone. Mr Henkel abused Alexandra on four separate occasions in this manner. ‘I was only 13.’

Every Sunday the children were taken to church in a bus driven by Mr Belmore, who over time became friendly with Alexandra. Eventually Mr Belmore offered to take Alexandra home to spend one day each weekend with his family, which the institution approved.

After about four months Mr Belmore told Alexandra to go to the back of the bus and ‘get ready’ for him. On that first occasion Mr Belmore molested Alexandra through her clothes but the next time, he raped her.

‘I thought he was nice until he wanted sex. I didn’t know, I was only 16 … I said to him after … “I’m bleeding!” He goes “Oh, you got your period”.’ Alexandra did not have her period that first time Mr Belmore raped her. ‘I didn’t know, I was only 16 … Now I know but I didn’t know when I was younger.’ Alexandra has had a phobia of being in the back of a bus ever since.

Mr Belmore threatened that Alexandra would never be allowed out of the home again if she told anyone about his abuse. He continued to rape her for approximately three years. ‘He used a condom always ‘cause he didn’t want…’

Around the time that she was being sexually abused by Mr Belmore, Alexandra’s file notes that her behaviour became ‘worse’, which she believes was a result of the abuse.

‘I was scared … When I was in an institution you had to shut your mouth … You weren’t allowed to say anything … If you said anything you’d be in serious trouble. No one’d believe you.’

In the mid-1980s Alexandra moved into her own apartment and began working as a cleaner. She was bullied by the other staff and the stress caused her health issues to flare up. After several years she left her job, moved to Melbourne and met her husband. During this time she had surgery which successfully improved her health.

In the 2000s Alexandra focussed her attention on locating family members and in the process discovered that her father was Aboriginal and she had several siblings. Knowing she is Indigenous gives her a sense of belonging and she is currently being assisted by Aboriginal people in Victoria to find out who her people are. ‘I’m proud of being an Aboriginal’ she told the Commissioner.

‘I love hugs, I do. I never got that love when I was a baby. And now I’m an Indigenous I call my brothers and my Aboriginal people my brothers and sisters who are Indigenous. I just found that out three years ago.’

Because of the abuse she suffered, Alexandra has spent much of her adult life being afraid of men, avoiding conflict and being manipulated by people. ‘I’m still frightened of men … the ones who I don’t know and don’t trust.’ Recently she left her husband of 23 years due to his violence against her. They did not have any children.

For most of her life Alexandra found it very difficult to talk about her abuse, but in recent years secured the services of a lawyer and was awarded $41,000 compensation. She has been prescribed medication for her panic attacks but finds that talking about the abuse makes her stronger. ‘I want to tell people my story so they will know.’

Alexandra believes children should be able to talk to a trusted person outside of institutions and would like see less institutionalisation and more attention given to helping people with disabilities live independently. ‘I want these institutions to be all closed in the whole of Australia.’

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