‘And I always wondered why I didn’t like Christmas, and it wasn’t until I got my files and I went, “Well, there you go. It says it all. Boxing Day”.’
It was on Boxing Day in the late 1950s that Belinda and her siblings were placed in care due to parental neglect. ‘I have no memory … of that family at all. None. I have no memory of being in the baby’s home that I was in. My first memories are with my foster family.’
Belinda lived with her foster family until she got a live-in job when she was 15. Every Saturday morning her foster sister went to ballet class, and her foster parents went to work. Her teenage foster brother was meant to be looking after her. ‘He looked after me alright.’
Belinda told the Commissioner, ‘It wasn’t full-on rape straight away. It would build up … It first started out where he’d digitally rape me, until there was a time that he took me into the bathroom and full-on raped me, and there was blood everywhere. I would have only been seven’.
One Saturday morning, Belinda’s foster sister came home early and ‘I remember her banging on the door saying, “Let me in … I know what you’re doing”. I started going to ballet classes after that on a Saturday morning’.
Belinda feels sorry for her foster sister. ‘She was only 11 or 12 … old enough to understand what was happening, but … there was no way she could talk to, you know, head-in-the-sand mother … There was no way she could talk to the father … because she was a young girl.’ However, by asking her parents if Belinda could go with her to ballet class, she stopped the abuse.
Being so young, Belinda didn’t know anything about sex, and because the abuse ‘was done with love … it screws with your head in a way that, if it’s done violently, is just so different’. Belinda’s foster brother didn’t threaten her not to tell, but told her, ‘It’s our secret’.
Although the abuse by her foster brother stopped, there was one occasion a few years later when she was sexually abused by her foster father. Belinda was 13 and had started wagging school with her boyfriend. ‘We used to hang out at the museum and the art gallery … We were wild [children].’
One day, Belinda and her boyfriend were at her house, lying on her bed, fully clothed, when her foster father stormed in. He threw the boyfriend out and slapped Belinda across the face. That night, he took her for a drive and pulled the car over. He told her that he was going to teach her a lesson.
‘So he … starts digitally raping me and fondling me and asking me to hold his penis and kiss him, and kiss his penis, because I might get pregnant if I do this with a boy. So I’m not to do it … and “don’t bother telling anybody about this, because this never happened”.’
Although welfare officers visited the foster home, they always spoke to the adults, and if they spoke to Belinda at all, it was in the presence of her foster parents, so she couldn’t say anything about the abuse.
Although Belinda was showing signs of anxiety, and had gone from ‘this lovely little girl … to being spiteful and lying, within months … Big red flag …’ no one asked her if anything was wrong.
Belinda got married in her late teens, to an older man. ‘I was looking for maturity and I ended up with a grooming, controlling … on the road to being a paedophile himself. His girlfriends [are] just getting younger and younger and younger … scary.’
In the early 2000s, after 10 years of dependence, Belinda gave up prescription drugs and decided to address the sexual abuse she experienced as a child.
‘I think it was my “cave period” … when I was probably clinically depressed as all hell, but I just pretty much stayed in my bed … listening to Radio National, getting educated by the ABC …
‘Once a week I’d drag myself out to the library, and get a stack of books … I soaked up all this stuff and it really was like a bit of a re-birth for me and a real education … It was like, “Wow, there’s this whole world out there and it’s actually open to me”.’
Before she took any action against her foster family, Belinda contacted them. They were the only family she knew, so she was willing to forgive them, for the sake of having a family around her. They abused her over the phone. She decided then that she would go to the police, and also seek legal advice.
The police decided that her foster father was too old to be interviewed, and her foster brother denied the abuse. Her foster sister also denied that she banged on the door that day, so her foster brother has not been charged. However, Belinda was successful in obtaining a compensation payment from her state government through a redress scheme.
Belinda came to the Royal Commission to tell her story, but she also wanted to come on behalf of her brother and one of her sisters, both of whom are deceased. She believes that both of them may have been sexually abused while they were in care, and she wanted to be their voice.