‘The reason for entering care was my mother’s mental illness, which was quite severe. She’d had psychiatric hospitalisations, suicide attempts and was threatening to kill my sister and I.’
Blythe was four when her mother was hospitalised for the second time following a psychotic episode in the early 1970s. Her stepfather was not prepared to look after her and her younger sister, and surrendered care of both girls to the state of Victoria.
Initially sent to a family group home, Blythe encountered emotional abuse and bullying from her cottage parents and ‘siblings’, and by the time she was seven considered taking her own life.
‘In hindsight I believe that by this age I was probably suffering depression.’ At 13, Blythe trialled a home release to her mother, however this proved unsuccessful when her mother, who was working as a prostitute, failed to provide a safe environment. ‘I had to run away because home just wasn’t a safe place to be.’
Over the following months Blythe was placed in different residences, eventually arriving at an Anglican-run children’s home. Unhappy in the home, she ran away at 14 and was raped but never reported it for fear of getting in trouble. Upon her return, she was given a medical examination where it was discovered she had a ‘macerated vulva’. She was never asked about it and her records indicate the cause was ‘tight jeans’. Around this time she began experimenting with drugs.
A year later Blythe attempted to live independently which was facilitated by workers at the children’s home. Young, vulnerable and with limited opportunities to earn an income, she got the attention of Maurice Collins, a man eight years her senior ‘who became my pimp’. She moved in with Collins and began engaging in sex work to earn a living. During this time her experimentation with drugs evolved into dependency and Collins, who was often physically violent, spent any money she earned on drugs.
At 15, Blythe was assisted by a senior worker from the home to move into a caravan with Collins. Staff at the home were aware she and Collins had a sexual relationship but did not report it. Within 10 days of moving into the caravan, Collins brutally raped and physically assaulted Blythe on numerous occasions, resulting in a miscarriage and hospitalisation.
While in hospital, Blythe met Hugh Romano, a 29-year-old man who convinced her to perform a sex act in the hospital bathrooms in exchange for cab fare back to the home. After returning to the home, staff discovered Blythe had engaged in prostitution and evicted her. Recently Blythe contacted the now retired director of the home to ask why this decision was made. ‘Her statement to me on the phone was, “We did things differently back then”.’
At 16, Blythe’s wardship was terminated. She suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance addiction. Pregnant and, unsure of who the father was, Blythe told Hugh Romano the baby was his.
‘Because I’d previously lost a baby to Collins’s violence, I was not sure which one was the father and I just thought, “Well I hope it’s Hugh” because Hugh hadn’t been physically violent yet.’ Blythe gave birth to a son which Romano raised as his own, but when he became violent and gave her a black eye she took her son and left him.
‘I started banging on doors requesting help at 17, and I didn’t stop asking for help until I received it. And I began with drug and alcohol treatment. That was the beginning. I was very fortunate to get a psychologist who actually had had a history of substance abuse.’ Blythe started working with her psychologist at 19 and is still in contact with her.
At 21, Blythe was admitted into rehab for substance abuse and subsequently lost custody of her son to Romano who, as revenge for Blythe leaving him, refused to relinquish custody. After giving up drugs, Blythe put her energy into continuing her education and forging a successful career. Despite this, she was never able to regain custody of her child.
Several years ago Blythe reported Collins’s rapes to the police, who advised her charges would not be laid due to insufficient evidence. Despite her multiple appeals, the matter was not pursued.
Collins died about one month before Blythe spoke with the Commissioner and she is currently considering reporting Romano. Now that her adult son has his own child, her most pressing concern is the safety of her granddaughter.
‘Now a grandchild that’s just been born may end up in a house with this paedophile that was basically molesting me as an underage teenage girl. It’s a disaster.’ Blythe has made her grandchild’s mother promise the child will never live with Romano.
Blythe is currently studying for a degree. She is unable to work due to depression and PTSD, and is instead receiving the disability support pension.
‘Unfortunately that’s gone a bit wayside at the moment but it’s not permanent. I will get back to work.’ She has remained single most of her adult life but has recently met someone she feels optimistic about. She is in contact with her son but describes it as ‘a strange relationship’. She has never sought compensation and is receiving support and counselling from a local service.
Blythe told the Commissioner that she believes the state knowingly put her in danger as a child and did not do enough to protect her. ‘I believe that the department has a responsibility and has to be held to account, and that the child deserves to be compensated. It is the most heinous form of abuse. The child believes, and even as an adult, that it’s their fault. They need to say, “No, it wasn’t your fault”.’
In addition to her education, Blythe is currently concentrating on repairing her relationship with her son in order to be a positive role model for him and his daughter.
‘Even though the relationship with my son is strained, I know that it’s my job, my duty, to be an example to him. And so I’m dedicated to living out the remainder of my days so that even at this time if he looks at me in a strained way and through the eyes of this horrible man that’s raised him, he will hopefully look back one day and say, “Gee, my mum was actually a pretty good mum, and she lived her life as an example to me of how you should live”.’