Andrea was born into a small Catholic family in regional New South Wales in the late 1940s. She met her future husband, Lee, when she was 11 years old and they have been together ever since.
Andrea became pregnant for the first time in her mid-teens and began antenatal care at the local women’s hospital. Lee was not allowed to come with her, and there were social workers on staff who attended to the girls. One of those workers, a woman, abducted Andrea when she was waiting for her first appointment.
‘I was taken off … in this white van and there were three other girls … they were all pregnant. None of us had any conversation in the van whatsoever. We did not see the driver because it had that silver mesh stuff, so I don’t know if it was a he or a she.’
When the van stopped, Andrea and the other girls found themselves at a different, Catholic hospital. Their possessions were taken away and they had to change out of their clothes. They were then forced to work in the hospital’s commercial laundry to ‘earn their keep’.
There was a man working there who would often touch the girls, then threaten them not to tell anyone. ‘He used to interfere with us in the laundry, put his hand down our tops, in between our legs and grab us. Told us if we said anything he’d put us in the dryers. If you went into the dryers, from the inside you couldn’t open them and get out. So you’d be stuck in there until someone found you.’
Andrea was ‘imprisoned’ at the hospital for six weeks. She and the other girls were treated horribly by the staff and nuns. The nuns would call them ‘young tarts and sluts’ and say they didn’t deserve to be mothers. Andrea believes the nuns wanted the girls to give up their babies to good families.
During her time at the hospital Andrea was also sexually abused by the man from the laundry and a nun, Sister Nancy.
‘I had my back turned … they stood beside the bed and said to me “Be quiet, do not say anything”. Pulled my pajamas down, put their hands in between my legs and [digitally] raped me. I was told to be quiet and say nothing.’
Andrea managed to escape from the hospital by sending a letter to Lee. She asked him to send a taxi for her when everyone was asleep. Andrea had to climb over a chained fence and run down the road in darkness to get away. She was five and a half months pregnant at the time.
Andrea is still shocked that no one reported her missing from the women’s hospital. Several years later, she tracked down some social workers who were there at the time. One of them, Sister Francis, told her that the white van was owned by the Catholic hospital, which intended to take away her baby.
Andrea approached the women’s hospital numerous times in the late 80s, seeking an explanation for her abduction. They insisted that there wasn’t a social worker department during her time there. Andrea told the Commissioner she has a letter from Sister Francis confirming that there was.
‘I need this acknowledgement, I need closure. I need the women’s hospital, I need the Catholic Family Welfare … to write me a letter stating that once the papers were marked, I was keeping the baby. That should have been the end of any involvement that Catholic Family Welfare had.’
Andrea has had two breakdowns and says she ‘cannot get past’ what happened to her. She was over-protective of her children to the point where she wouldn’t allow them to go on school excursions, for fear that someone would try to take them away. But she’s also been seeing a counsellor for a number of years, which has been positive.
Andrea first reported the abduction and sexual abuse to the police in the late 2000s, but her case was not investigated further. She also engaged with Towards Healing and accepted a settlement because she believed that was ‘the only way’ her experience would be acknowledged. Andrea has recently decided to again report the sexual abuse by Sister Nancy.