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Barbara Sally's story

‘I don’t think the word “survivor” is an appropriate word … we haven’t survived we’ve existed through it … The event that I’m discussing is … when I was victimised and yes, that’s what I was.’

Barbara was very young when, in the late 1960s, she was placed in a Presbyterian children’s home in Sydney. Her mother was ill and couldn’t look after her so the Department of Community Services organised the placement. The home was a very brutal and closed community. The children all had to work at jobs around the property, even those as young as three.

‘I don’t recall … seeing anything outside the gates … you never went out of the grounds for anything … the big long gates around [the home] it really did feel like you were incarcerated.’

Barbara can’t remember her exact age when she was sexually abused by the male house parent, but the event has remained imprinted on her psyche. She was moved into an individual room, separate from the dormitory with the rest of the girls.

‘He came in one night and before I knew what was going on he had the back of my head, an erect penis in my mouth and a hanky in his hand. He went for it until it was completed. I remember him holding the back of my head, and gagging. I couldn’t breathe. Once he ejaculated I was choking.

‘I was between three and seven. When you were seven you got transferred over to the next home. Very, very young age. I just remember choking to death and not being able to breathe and begging him to let go of my head.’

The trauma of the event, and the punishments that kept her from telling anyone, have impacted hugely on her life.

‘It’s so horrible to have it so vivid in your mind still. It just never goes … I can’t ever put it back anywhere. Stupid things bring it up. I had so much trouble even being a young lady … I didn’t know what it was to have intercourse with a man or how to trust them … It did significant damage.’

Barbara remained at the home for a number of years. After her mother died, she was made a ward of the state. Even though Barbara had never had any contact with her father, when she was 11 the department sent her to live with him.

Barbara was initially excited about the idea, but not long after she moved to his house her father began to physically and sexually abuse her. This abuse included molestation and penetration. Barbara could only see two options.

‘I had the choice of staying with someone that’s just raped me and … beat the crap out of me every day, or telling the home and staying there and the chance of it happening again and still getting beaten to a pulp.

‘So, I decided not to tell anyone and, that when I was old enough, I would run away. And I did.’

Barbara left before she was 15 and moved interstate, quickly finding work. Almost 30 years later she was contacted by police to make a statement against her father. Other women had alleged that he’d sexually abused them and they needed a further witness for the court case.

While Barbara was providing a statement about her father she mentioned the abuse by the house parent. The police seemed uninterested and dismissive. Without more evidence against the house parent, ‘there wasn’t anything they could do at this time for me’.

The case against her father proceeded but Barbara found the stress of having to appear in court too much, and she attempted suicide. Her father pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received a jail sentence. Barbara has never returned to the police to pursue the house parent.

‘Because of how my dad got off with 18 months. There was just no point to go through everything I went through, to nearly lose my life, to go through all that stress [just] to have the judge turn around and go, “He’s old and feeble now and he doesn’t drink so let’s just rack him up with 18 months, that’ll do him. See ya”. And then he [the judge] looked at me and said “Do you want to read your victim impact statement?” … I just threw it on the ground … and just walked out of the court.’

After the case she received some victims of crime compensation. Then the Uniting Church, the organisation that has responsibility over any historical claims against the Presbyterian Church, forced a monetary settlement. Barbara couldn’t afford a legal representative at the time and felt coerced into taking the money.

‘It was too quick and too fast … That was the case … both times, it just didn’t matter what I said, it was “Oh no, we want to get it done”.’

Barbara believes that anyone who commits sexual offences against children needs to be jailed, regardless of age or ill-health.

‘It is permanent incarceration … We are permanently incarcerated in our heads. It’s not a penalty we ever asked for … My [abuser] got put away for 18 months and I’ve been like this all my life.

‘[They’ve] done the damage … they should not be able to get away from it because of health. Your humanitarian things should not come into it when you’re someone that’s committed these crimes … They need to be put inside.’

Barbara would like to see minimum sentences introduced, ‘to create that deterrent. It’s got to slow … some of them down, surely’. Barbara also hopes that victims will be treated better than she was when she had to appear in court.

‘One of the most daunting things I found about it was having to step into a room with that man again … To be in a courtroom it’s horrific. The fear is like no other. It takes you right back to the event … I thought being an adult it would be okay. Nu-uh, I went straight back to an 11-year-old the second I set eyes on him and I was fearful and I was scared and I was petrified. Just overwhelming.’

Barbara told the Commissioner that she hopes other children who were abused by the house parent come forward so he can be brought to justice.

‘My hope and prayers were that … we might actually find some other people that were hurt in the home in that way … Maybe there’s a slim chance … if there’s enough of us then the DPP has to look at it again …

‘The state took so much from me … At the home, I was nothing, I was no one, I was trouble, I was a handful … They just took so much from us.’

Barbara felt ‘lighter’ after talking with the Commissioner, and is keen to follow up further possible civil claims against the department. She hopes that general education of the public will transform the way sexual abuse is reported, and that adults will take more responsibility to action allegations made by children.

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