Chelsea was four when she first went to the Wesley Mission’s children’s home in suburban Sydney. Her father admitted her and her brothers ‘as a punishment to Mum’, and they stayed for a few weeks.
The second time she went to the home, Chelsea was seven. It was the late 1970s, and her stepfather didn’t want kids around. Her mother placed Chelsea and her brother there together. The home separated them, and they weren’t allowed to speak to each other.
Chelsea was sexually abused this time by a man who played a management role. She provided a written account of this abuse, and also met with the Royal Commission in person. ‘I was not allowed to talk to anyone, so I never had a voice all my life. I need my voice now.’
The man abused her in multiple ways. When he digitally raped her, ‘it hurt so bad but I could not make a sound. I did a little because I was in pain, but he didn't stop.’ He confined her in a locker-type cupboard, and would make her stand totally naked while he looked over her and said humiliating things. He threw her clothes at her afterwards, and she felt ‘inhuman’, ‘like I was a dog’.
Chelsea remembers the ‘huge fear’, and being choked ‘to the point I thought I was going to die’. She would try to keep quiet when he lay on her, ‘he was so heavy I was being crushed by him. This is where I learnt how to silently cry’.
He would make her fellate him and she vomited when he ejaculated. One time, he anally raped her with some other men. ‘I don't want to remember how many as it is too painful and defiling and humiliating. I want to be sick. They put a rag in my mouth.’
There was a lady at the home who was there to look after the children. Chelsea told her what the man was doing, but rather than trying to end the abuse she allowed him further access to Chelsea. ‘At the end of the day, she helped him abuse me.’ Chelsea has received her care records, but they do not mention the abuse she experienced.
Chelsea described how her experiences at the home have impacted on her life since, and ‘set my life on a course of abuse after abuse in every way.’ She was sexually abused after leaving the home by her stepfather and stepbrother.
‘All these things and more set me up for a life of abuse and that is what happened to me, and a life of sickness and pain. I may have to deal with these things until the day I die’. Chelsea was subjected to domestic violence by her first husband which ‘in turn has a detrimental effect on my children and their lives’.
She still finds it hard to sleep and can’t have the lights off. ‘I’m on guard just in case something bad happens’. Lying on her back is triggering ‘because there is a fear in me if I lay on my back like when I was being abused I will be crushed again’. She doesn’t like being alone, because ‘bad things happen when you’re alone'.
When she went into the home, she lost all of her belongings. She felt ‘truly stripped bare in so many ways. I now hang on to everything I have. I am dealing with hoarding’. Food was used as a means of control, and the children would be denied dinner or dessert as punishment. Chelsea still has ‘control issues around food’, and ‘I have a problem swallowing things now because I was forced to give him oral sex’.
Even now Chelsea feels dirty, guilty for having fun, and not deserving of anything, as ‘he told me it was all my fault, what he did.’ There ‘is so much self-hatred I've had to, and still have to, deal with’.
Throughout it all, her relationship with God remained very important as ‘I was never alone then ... God’s just looked after me’. A plaque on the home reads ‘to the glory of God and the service of children', and ‘it grieves me that this was done in his name’.
She has felt suicidal many times, and has engaged with counselling for most of her adult life. She fears authority greatly and is unable to work. Overall, the abuse was an ‘assault on who I am. Can't work. Can't play. Can't be me in anyway'.
It is only recently that Chelsea has remembered the details of the childhood abuse. It ‘was all so traumatic that my mind locked it away until a time that I was safe enough and strong enough to deal with this’.
Since remembering more, she has started having panic attacks. She hopes that by dealing with these memories, she will find some healing. Her current husband is loving and supportive, and her therapist supports her greatly too.
Chelsea has never spoken with police about any of the abuse. She has only recently discovered it could be reported this long after the event, and that she could access victim support services. She is now considering her legal options.
Chelsea is comforted by seeing other people come forward, and taking the people who abused them to court: ‘It might not be my justice, but it is justice, and that brings joy to my heart’. She believes that the impacts of child sexual abuse on survivors, and the community, should be thoroughly recognised and reflected when sentencing offenders.
‘Sexual abuse has many different costs. Some to society. Mostly to the abused person for the whole life. It never ended, we get a life sentence. I think the law should take that into consideration when convicting sexual abusers.’