Anne was born in New South Wales in the early 1950s. When she was six years old her mother took her and her little sister to a Catholic orphanage for girls and left them there, ‘on the doorstep with our birth certificates round our necks’.
The orphanage was a harsh, loveless place run by embittered nuns who regularly beat and insulted the children. Even today Anne is still baffled by their senselessly cruel behaviour.
‘So cold. I don’t know what it was with the nuns, I just don’t know. They had no feelings. I don’t know what it was. I still can’t work them out.’
For all of their meanness, the nuns never sexually abused Anne – but the other girls did. It started when Anne was 10 years old. At night one of the older girls snuck into her bed and molested her.
‘I didn’t know anything. I don’t know how old I was but she made me do things that I didn’t understand.’
The girl molested Anne about 10 times over a two-year period. This wasn’t the worst abuse that Anne suffered. The worst, she said, was when a gang of older girls marched her and some other younger girls into the laundry and made them take down their pants. The older girls then dragged the orphanage dog into the laundry and made Anne and the others stand there while it licked their genitals.
Not knowing how to process this abuse, Anne acted out. One day while on holidays with a foster family she was caught behind the shed, re-enacting the abuse with their dog. As an adult looking back, she finds it excruciatingly impossible to comprehend what she was thinking at that time.
‘It’s disgusting. But I don’t know why it happened ... It honestly did happen. But why? I don’t know why.’
For several months Anne left the orphanage and went to live with the Stevens family. She hated it. Mrs Stevens was cruel to her and beat her with the ironing cord. Mr Stevens got into bed with her several times and made her touch his penis.
One day Anne took some pills from the Stevens’s and, thinking they were lollies, gave them out at school. When the Stevens’s found out they sent her back to the orphanage. Later Anne spent a holiday with another family. The house father put his hand up her shirt and down her pants.
At 16 Anne left the orphanage for good and went to work on a farm. Despite all the awful things she’d been through she was still a naive girl who knew little about sex. When a farm worker raped her in the back of his car she didn’t understand what was happening and afterwards was too confused and ashamed to tell anybody.
She married young. ‘He gave me two kids. I don’t regret having them. They love me and I love them.’
But otherwise the marriage was a painful disaster for Anne. Her husband was a violent man who sometimes beat her in front of the children. At first, Anne was too traumatised to understand that his behaviour was wrong.
‘When he hit you, I used to always say, “Oh yeah, but I deserved it”. Because I was a nagger. I used to call myself a nagger. And I’d say I deserved it because – this is how I said it – they had to shut me up … but then as I got older I realised no, no, I shouldn’t have been hit like that.’
After a divorce and a string of violent relationships, Anne decided that she was better off alone. She no longer feels she can trust anyone.
‘I always try to warn my daughter. She’s so friendly. I say, Nicole don’t. Don’t be so friendly, Nicole. Don’t let anyone in. Whether that’s normal for me, but I’m only trying to protect her.’
For a long while Anne ‘bottled up’ her memories of the abuse. In her early twenties she told her sister what had happened but after that she closed down and kept everything inside. Then, many years later, she opened up to a support group for people who grew up in care homes, and found this very helpful.
Anne still has her struggles but somehow she always gets by.
‘I’ve been so down’, she said, ‘and no matter how bad things are – I might suffer from the anxiety and everything like that but, I don’t know what it is, I always seem to bounce back.’