Christine Donna's story

‘I grew up innocent, and just happy and healthy ... Normal family, and all of a sudden I’m in Hell. And that’s all it was. It was Hell.’

In the late 1960s, when Christine was 15, she ‘just sort of rebelled a little. Nothing much. I’d stay out late and then think, “If I go home, I’m going to get in trouble”, so I’d sleep over and then my parents would go into [a panic] … Dad would call the police, looking for me … and the next thing I know, I’m in [a juvenile detention centre]’.

Christine was charged with being ‘uncontrollable and exposed to moral danger’, and after two short stays in the centre in New South Wales, she was sent to a state-run girls’ home.

‘When I got [there], they opened the door and you walked in there, your first impressions of that place is like, it’s something out of a scary movie.’ Christine spent nine months in the girls’ home, where she was subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

‘I think fear overtook any emotion and I think mainly that was the sheer coldness of the place … They stood there and watched us doing our work. No interaction … You’re assigned a number. You don’t become a person anymore … I’ll never forget my number … You were not human anymore. You just became numb.’

Christine recalled a doctor giving her an internal examination when she entered the home. ‘I was a virgin … and you have to get up on this table and you’re like, “What are they doing? Why are they doing this” … and he just shoved, and … I nearly went off the end of the table, and just screamed.’

No one responded to Christine’s screams. ‘You could scream blue murder and no one would come … “Don’t they hear us?” It wasn’t just like a medical examination. He just lingered longer, and it just didn’t feel right and it terrified me … because I’d never even thought of sex or inappropriate touching. Never heard of it. And then … that done to you, down there, it was like, “What’s going on?”’

When Christine was called to the superintendent’s office, she was shocked when he punched her in the face. ‘He’s just gone, “Whack” under my chin … And then he raped me. And … it hurt, it hurt. I cried. I screamed. I bled. Nobody cared … And you can’t say anything, because you think that it only happened to you … none of the other girls ever said, in case … it happened to ’em again.’

After the rape, ‘the rebel come out in me. I figured, after the doctor, after being hit, after being raped … nothing else bad could happen. You know, like, “What can they do now? Kill me?”’

When she was caught trying to steal cigarettes from the officers’ rest room, Christine was taken to ‘the dungeon’. ‘I was in there for 24 hours. He raped me in there again. Then I was left there. No toilets. I had to go to the toilet in the corner. Nowhere to lay. Nowhere to sit. No blanket. No nothing ... I cried and cried and cried. And I prayed to die. I prayed, “If there is a God, just take me now”.’

Christine never told her parents about the sexual abuse because, ‘every visiting, my dad would cry when he left because he blamed himself for me being in there, so I could never talk to them about it because it would have just destroyed ’em’.

As an adult, Christine spent many years addicted to heroin. ‘I had to. It was the only way I could block [it out] …

‘You cover it up with other things … and then every now and then, something’d happen and a little memory’ll come out and then you’re like, “No. Get back”, and that’s what I did with drugs … And then I had to give the drugs up. I had to come clean. I had to. So I went into rehab.’

Christine tried to take her own life many times, and it was after the first attempt that she began seeing the first of three psychiatrists. It took her five years to tell the third psychiatrist, who treated her for 15 years, about the sexual abuse. This psychiatrist retired, and Christine now sees a counsellor.

‘I had blocked this out of my life … over the years through drugs and all sorts of bad choices and I was watching TV … and I heard [the name of the girls’ home] … and the tears just … I couldn’t talk. All of a sudden, I was this 15-year-old kid again, and I’m just angry ... So angry.’

Christine told the Commissioner that she ‘had dreams when I was a kid of what I wanted in my life … They took everything away from me. They stole my innocence … When I went in there, because I was 15, schooling stopped … When I come out of there, I was in no frame of mind to even think of schooling again’.

Christine found she was also unable to work, ‘because I had this fear of authority. Anyone told me that I had to do something, I just shut down … Others thought I was lazy because I wouldn’t work, but I wasn’t about to tell ’em why I couldn’t do it. The authority figure was my biggest fear’.

Christine came to the Royal Commission because, ‘I just don’t want [others] to go through what we went through’.

At the end of her session, Christine declared, ‘I’m a survivor’. She credits her children and late partner for her resilience, and her children credit her for teaching them family values, and making them the successes they are today.

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