Catalina's story

‘I often wonder what I would be like if I had a proper start in life.’

Catalina doesn’t have many memories of her parents other than that her father was absent and her mother was struggling to raise the children on her own. The family was living in a Salvation Army hostel in New South Wales and relied on the charity for food.

In the early 1960s, Catalina’s mother was having difficulty and she was advised to put the children into care. They were placed into a children’s home for several months before Catalina and her brother were placed with foster carers Mr and Mrs Reginald in a suburb of Sydney.

Catalina was five at the time and she and her brother stayed with the Reginalds for six years. It was a cold and loveless home and Mr Reginald sexually abused both children in the time they were there.

Once when Catalina was six, she told Mrs Reginald about the abuse. She was hoping something would be done, but was disappointed.

‘She turned around and said, “You came to us as a slut so expect it”.’

Each time Catalina was abused, her foster father forced her to wear ‘sexy nighties’. He made her steal the nighties from the local shopping centre and he placed them under her bed. She can’t recall how many times she stole from the store. She was scared of him and did as she was told.

Catalina often ran away but was always returned by police to the Reginalds’ home. When she was 11, the police returned her but also came in to speak to her foster parents. Mr Reginald told the police that Catalina was a thief and showed them the bags of stolen goods. She was declared ‘uncontrollable’ and was removed from the Reginalds’ home the next day.

Her next foster family was no better. The Daniels were unkind and treated Catalina ‘like dirt’. They had an 18-year-old son, Eric, who was particularly cruel and by the time she turned 13, Catalina was being raped by Eric two to three times a week.

Catalina didn’t know what to do. She wagged school whenever she could and again ran away. She was also distressed because she’d been separated from her brother, and she felt helpless knowing that he was being abused by Mr Reginald.

When Catalina was 13, the Daniels complained about her behaviour to her welfare officer. She was then placed in a correctional center in a regional town. At the institution, Catalina was forced to have internal examinations by a male doctor.

The early 1970s were a horrible time for Catalina. She was in and out of several schools and couldn’t concentrate during class. She was placed in several different homes but always absconded. As she was a ward of the state, the police had no choice but to return her to the institution she was in at the time.

On one occasion when she was 16, Catalina was picked up by the police and held in a cell overnight. She was forced to perform oral sex on a police officer in her cell. Catalina stated that she was so used to abuse by this stage that she didn’t hesitate.

‘I was a really dumb sort of a person. Numb and dumb.’

Catalina’s teenage and adolescent years were difficult. She had low self-esteem and felt that any man was good enough for her. At 17 she met a man who later became the father of her children. He was violent and abusive and after he went to jail, their children were taken into care.

‘I thought you had to be a doormat for men. If they wanted it, you did it.’

In her mid-twenties, Catalina moved to the country and picked up work. She described herself as a proactive worker and enjoyed full time employment. She met another man and had several children with him, but the relationship was toxic and he was abusive. Catalina stayed with him for many years before the relationship broke down.

Throughout her adult life, Catalina has tried to reconnect with the children she had with her first partner. However they blame her for their unhappy lives, something she feels guilty about. The relationship with her other children is strained and she’s upset that her grandchildren have come to the attention of the Department of Community Services.

It took several decades for Catalina to disclose the abuse she’d experienced as a child. In the late 2000s she reported to NSW Police and learned that two of the men who had abused her were dead but that the Daniels’ son was still alive. She wasn't aware, at the time, that she could claim compensation from the welfare department.

Catalina told the Commissioner that the Daniels case is still pending, but she hasn’t heard from the police in several years.

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