‘It’s never going to stop’, Babette said to the Commissioner about child sexual abuse. ‘It’ll be there till the end of time. It’s been there from the beginning.’
Babette’s story of her own childhood, back in the 1960s, gives her the right to be less than sunny about the future. She grew up in southern New South Wales, and her mother was an alcoholic – a ‘party girl’, Babette’s uncle called her – who didn’t protect Babette from being sexually abused by a string of people, starting with an elderly neighbour when Babette was 10.
What rankles most with Babette is the way her mother called her a liar. Her mother had kicked Babette’s dad out and moved her de facto partner, John Davidson, in. ‘He used to come into my room’, Babette said, and do the same things that her neighbour had done. Davidson belted her if she refused him. When Babette told her mum what was happening, she would be driven to the local institution for girls and told ‘this is where bad girls end up’.
Then, when Babette was 14, ‘I’d had enough’. One of her half-brothers had also started abusing her. She ran to a neighbour who took her to her older sister’s place. All Babette wanted was to be with her dad. But instead, the police turned up.
She told them about John Davidson sexually abusing her. Again she was not believed.
‘There was just nothing. It’s like as if I was just a closed book.’ The police never took a statement. ‘It was never, ever investigated.’ Babette thinks it was a case of ‘not caring’.
‘We were the paupers of the town. We come from alcoholic families.’
The police told Babette she was an ‘uncontrollable child’ and locked her up for the night. The next day she was escorted by a welfare officer to a girls’ home in Sydney.
‘The 30 days I spent in there, was 30 days of hell.’
Babette was continually abused by older inmates. ‘I was held down. I was raped by the girls. They used to put underwear in my mouth to stop me screaming.’ Some of the new girls would fight the bullies. One girl who defended herself was very badly abused. But there was a witness to the abuse. One of the night staff thought it was great entertainment. ‘She used to get a torch and she used to like seeing everything.’
The older girls used Babette’s naivete to their advantage. When they set fire to a mattress, they blamed Babette. She was put in solitary confinement – ‘in this hole, in this box’ – as punishment for two or three days. She still suffers claustrophobia as a result.
At about 10 o’clock at night, someone came in and visited her. ‘I don’t know who he was. I cannot remember his face. But it was … the hands, the penis and the torch. And that happened over a two-night period.’ Babette remembers the smell of Brylcreem and Brut. ‘When I got out of solitary I was a different girl.’
A female guard also abused her there. Babette recently had an operation to repair the physical damage done to her during that confinement.
One woman, a teacher, had been kind to her in her first week at the home. So when she was released from solitary Babette went to her for help. But the teacher said, ‘Please don’t say nothing. It’ll get harder and harder for you’.
‘She was a beautiful lady but she was more concerned about her job at that time.’
So Babette said nothing. When she was threatened with being sent permanently to another girls’ home in Sydney, rather than going home, she kept her head down and worked hard. ‘I bent over backwards to let them do whatever anyone wanted to do to me. I allowed it.’
Finally she was flown back home, on a 12-months good behaviour bond. John Davidson continued trying to abuse her. She was sent to her cousins in another town and had to write to the probation board every month.
Babette ran away at 15 after she was threatened with expulsion from her school.
‘I was like Forrest Gump, I suppose. I ran.’ Babette made her way back to Sydney and lived on the streets on and off for years. ‘I stole to survive. I even ate out of garbage bins to survive. I took drugs to survive, because I didn’t want to think.
‘I ran for 18 and a half years till I had my daughter. And then I met my husband. Then I stopped running.’
Babette’s husband Mark came to the Commission with her. It was clear how solid their bond is and how much he supports her.
‘They would never believe what she was tellin’ them,’ Mark said. ‘And she was taken out of the frying pan and thrown into the fire.’
Who wouldn’t believe her? ‘My mother, the police, the welfare system.’
Babette goes to see the girls’ home sometimes, much to her husband’s bewilderment. ‘It’d take me a week to get you back to some sort of sanity again.’
Babette’s had counselling but she believes Mark and her own kids have been more helpful to her. She no longer talks to her mother.
‘I was sick of trying to get my mum to love me as a daughter.’
So how has she stayed strong? Babette smiled. ‘Please don’t laugh at me.’ She wrote a letter to Davidson, saying that she was still going to be quite young when he was very old. ‘That was my survival.’
Would it help her if Davidson was charged?
‘I want him charged,’ Babette whispered. ‘I should never have went to that home.’