In the mid-1960s, when she was seven years old, Carol was made a ward of the state.
She told the Commissioner, ‘I remember being at school and the teacher said you’ve got to go home to this neighbour’s house not your mother’s house … I remember that I didn’t like it and I didn’t understand why I was there. That’s been all along; I never understood why anything happened.’
Carol and her younger sister were fostered by the Berman family. Looking back, Carol suspects that the Berman’s biological daughter, Angela, may have been abused. She recalled one occasion when Angela, ‘came in my room in the middle of the night and came and woke me up in my bed and wanted to do sexual things to me, saying she went to Mum and Dad’s room and they said to come and do things with me’.
Carol managed to escape the situation without any physical harm but it was one more factor that contributed to her constant sense of fear.
‘I was always afraid of bad men, from the time I went to the first home. I can remember at night wondering where the adults were and wondering if some bad person was going to break in.’
When she was about 11, Carol explored the possibility of moving in with a friend of hers, but the girl’s parents eventually said no.
‘Next thing you know, the welfare came to the house. I came home from school one day and I remember Mr Berman was there and he said, “Did you tell the welfare you don’t want to live here anymore?” And I said, “Yes”. And he smacked me in the face and that was it.’
Carol was removed from the Berman’s care, separated from her sister and placed into a government-run girls’ home. At the home one night she woke to witness some of the other girls ‘doing sexual things to each other’.
‘I think there was probably about six of them. And they came and they got really angry at me, and they grabbed me and they said, “Do you think you’re going to tell on us or something? Make sure you don’t”.
And they like, really hurt me. Just like, pulling all my clothes off and sticking their fingers inside of me and, you know, touching me and just assaulting me physically, sexually, for about, I don’t know, for 10 minutes.’
Eventually one of the other girls intervened and ended the incident. Sometime later Carol was moved to a different girls’ home where she said she suffered a more subtle form of sexual abuse. She described one night when a staff member caught Carol and her friends talking in the dorm.
‘She called us all filthy, lesbian sluts, disgusting – like, every name under the sun to make us feel like we were some kind of really scary children ... they didn’t abuse you, but they abused you as people, wrongly, in a sexual way by telling you you were some kind of a sexual deviant.’
Carol spent the rest of her teenage years shifting between her mother’s home, foster care placements and children’s homes. She said she was stalked and harassed by various men and was once raped by her mother’s friend.
‘I was just lost and alone and there was no social workers coming to check up on me, and I was at risk all the time: drugs, alcohol, at that age, strange men, men threatening me, just horrendous. It was just a risky situation and I could have ended up just as easily pregnant as my sister, or dead.’
Carol told the Commissioner that the stories she’d told were ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ and that the real victims were her mother, who suffered multiple acts of sexual abuse, and her sister, who was held captive and forced into prostitution.
She said that she managed to keep her own life together because of ‘the grace of God’ and her determination to make a good life for her children.
‘No matter what, if my marriage didn’t work out – which it didn’t – if I was a single mum – which I was – that was not going to stop me making sure that these kids mattered, that the unconditional love and support they needed was going to be there no matter what.’