Christina May's story

Christina grew up in outback New South Wales, in a family that was very ‘dysfunctional. Mum and Dad were mismatched … She was a bit [of an] irresponsible sort of person’.

Christina’s mother left home a number of times. In the early 1970s, ‘Mum had left, and Dad just wasn’t coping. I think he realised that she wasn’t coming back this time. He sent us to her, and within 12 hours, she had us put in a home …’

Christina went to a Protestant children’s home in South Australia at the age of 11. While she was there, ‘a bunch of the older boys, on three occasions that I can remember … held me down and digitally molested me … I was very under-developed, just a skinny little kid, and it was a bit of a shock …’

Her abusers were about 13 or 14 years old, and Christina doesn’t believe that she was the only girl they sexually abused. ‘I can imagine they were the thugs of the [home].’

Christina returned to live with her mother for a while, but her mother was ‘pretty brutal. She was … never home at night or anything. She was out and about … a bit wild, and if we didn’t do as we were told, she took to us with a hose, a rubber hose. She laid into us once too often, and I ran away’.

After Christina ran away, her mother had her placed in care again. This time she was sent to a home for women, which acted as a halfway house for the local psychiatric institutions, so there were both women and girls living there.

While she was in this home, Christina was physically assaulted by the nuns who ran the place, as well as by other residents. One of the other girls blackened both Christina’s eyes and broke her nose. Although Christina was walking around for weeks with visible injuries, the nuns did nothing.

Once again, when Christina was released, her mother didn’t want her at home, so after she began wagging school, Christina was sent to a remand centre, and then to two girls’ homes, all very violent places.

The superintendent of one of the girls’ homes was ‘a pretty brutal sort of bloke … with all the girls. Push ‘em around and stuff like that. He put his hand down my top … tried to say I had tissues down my bra. That was his excuse, but he was fondling my breasts’. On another occasion, he came to Christina’s room and tried to fondle her genitals.

At both the remand centre and the first girls’ home, ‘invasive vaginal testing’ was carried out, and this was ‘extremely painful and nothing like regular Pap smears’. Christina was 13 when these internal examinations were first carried out.

At the second girls’ home, five residents held Christina down and inserted an object into her vagina. An officer witnessed the assault but did nothing to stop it.

‘Events that took place back then have significantly affected my life in terms of my decision-making skills, adult relationships, and stress-related coping skills, and I believe this has had an ongoing negative effect on my health … and intermittent memory loss, which began back then.’

The abuse she experienced when she was a child led to Christina being over-protective of her children and grandchildren. ‘There are so many people out there that you can’t trust.’

Christina has tried to put the sexual abuse of her childhood behind her. She has always been employed and has completed several courses at TAFE, and is now undertaking a full-time course at university. Although she experiences episodes of depression, she said that she is too busy to see a counsellor.

‘Disclosing this part of my life is very difficult for me. I have tried to distance myself from it for over 40 years. I have never told anybody, including my children, ex-husband or friends about any of it, but reading those familiar stories on the Royal Commission website, I realise that there is no distance from that period of my life.’

Christina told the Commissioner that she has no interest in reporting the abuse to police or the institutions. ‘I know it’s always going to be there. It’s obviously part of my life, but I don’t want it to be front and centre of my life ever again.’

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