Bec remembers vividly the day that her mother and a psychiatrist had a physical tug of war over her. Her mum wanted to take Bec home. He wanted to keep her in hospital. A neighbour had called police to Bec’s house, where they found four-year-old Bec, malnourished and traumatised. She had been sexually and physically abused by her stepfather and also exposed to the extreme violence he dealt out to her mother. She was removed and made a ward of the state.
A distraught Bec was put into a psych ward, sedated and tied to the bed. It was the late 1970s.
A children’s home in Melbourne, run by the Sisters of Mercy, was where Bec eventually settled at the age of five. It was a clean and well-ordered place, managed by two lay women - ‘the aunties’ - who cooked, cleaned and cared for the kids who lived there. They made sure she went to church and to Sunday school. ‘They never swore and never yelled.’
But the two women didn’t live on site. They had their own homes. And even though she got on well with them, Bec couldn’t tell them about the teenage boys – also residents of the home - who started coming into her room at night when she was eight or nine years old, and raping her. She was too scared. ‘I thought I would get into trouble.’
Bec eventually discovered that if she wet her pants the boys would leave her alone. She also asked that a lock be put on the door that divided the boys’ and girls’ sections. This went ahead, although no one asked her why she wanted a lock. But by that time the damage was done, it was too late.
And no one asked why she fought so much with one of her abusers – serious fights, where she would try to kill him. The attacks stopped when the teenagers moved out. After the boys had left, Bec started seeing a social worker called Paula, who she got on very well with, but she couldn’t tell Paula about the abuse either.
‘To be quite honest I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know it was rape or molesting … I’d never heard of rape in my life … or boyfriends. I was very sheltered and very naive … I didn’t have a clue.’
Paula stuck by Bec for years. Bec said that continuity was a precious thing to her, in a world where there was none. ‘Half the time when you went to school, you didn’t know what you were coming back home to, who was going to be there.’
When the aunties stopped working for the home, Bec was devastated. ‘As soon as they left, it went downhill.’ A married couple, Peter and Katya, moved in to the bedroom next to Bec’s. Everything changed immediately. There was no longer a calm, caring atmosphere, families weren’t encouraged to visit for long, and the nuns only made an appearance to punish the kids.
Peter started abusing Bec almost at once. It started with the terrible food, Bec said. She complained to Katya about it and she was sent to her room. Hours later Peter would come in and give her chips and chocolate. She knows now that he was grooming her. He began getting sexual favours in exchange for food.
How often? ‘Every day, all day, all night. Whenever he could lay his hands on me he would try to lay his hands on me.’
Peter would take Bec to friends’ places and fondle her in front of them, pretending it was a game when she squirmed and complained. Sometimes he forced her to sit in his lap. Katya was often there but didn’t seem to care. ‘She was about as cold as ice, or even colder.’
There were never any other staff at the home. Peter and Katya were effectively her house parents.
When she was 10, Bec disclosed to the psychiatrist who had struggled with her mum for control of her. He rang the police, who interviewed Bec at the home for nine hours.
‘They were very scary. They kept on saying to me that lying was a very serious thing.’
Peter and Katya vanished from her life and Bec stayed on at the home. She doesn’t know if Peter was charged or what happened to them.
Bec didn’t make any more reports to the police about the abuse she suffered. She dealt with the trauma by running away up north. And when she got into serious trouble, she ran away again and ended up living on the streets, committing crimes, self-harming and exposing herself regularly to serious physical and sexual violence.
But she just didn’t care. ‘I really didn’t give a fuck about myself.’ She was rushed to hospital by a friend after she attempted suicide. ‘Why didn’t you let me die?’ she asked. ‘I’m not worth saving.’
Bec is married now and is hypervigilant with her own children, checking on them constantly. She suffers from extreme anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and mood swings. ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy', she told the Commissioner.
She gets strength from faith in God. ‘I have my own personal relationship with God and that’s it.’
Bec has not tried to find her ward file or claim compensation. She saw part of her half-sister’s file and found that very traumatic. She doesn’t want to relive those episodes by looking at her own file.
She is angry with the State of Victoria for their negligence. ‘I was pretty much kicked out on my own when I was 15 to fend for myself with no money, no support, nothing.’
A child shouldn’t be dumped, she said.
‘You don’t just raise a child up in the system from the age of four and just go, “Well there you go. We’ve done our job. See ya” … If you make someone a ward of the state for that long, you’ve got to be prepared to finish your job.’