Deborah told the Commissioner ‘I remember the neighbours used to feed me ‘cause my mum wouldn’t’. She thinks this may have been because her mother just had too many children, or perhaps because Deborah was one of two siblings who looked like their absent father.
In the mid-1970s, when Deborah was 11, she was made a ward of the state and for four or five years lived in three children’s homes in Victoria, where she suffered physical and sexual abuse.
‘I think, when we go into those places, some kids, we seem to set off like a radar that says “No one’s going to believe me so you can do what you like to me”. It’s like we carry this sign, you know.’
The first home Deborah was placed in was a government-run institution. At this home she was physically abused by staff members, and sexually abused by one of the male workers. The first time he molested her was during the daytime, after he told her he was taking her to see the babies at the home. He molested her on several other occasions, so Deborah eventually ran away. When she was brought back to the home, this worker was no longer there.
Deborah was later moved to another government-run home, where she suffered severe physical abuse. When she was 13 she tattooed the first initial of her recently deceased brother on her arm. A staff member forced her to scrub her arm with a wire brush to try to remove the tattoo, and her arm still bears a scar from this.
When Deborah was placed in an Anglican children’s home, she was physically and sexually abused by Mr Carlton, the man in charge, who was ‘a big dude’. Deborah told the Commissioner, ‘He’d come into the shower and just maul you, like just literally maul you … he’d just be mauling your body while you were in the shower … so you get to the stage where you don’t even shower. Seriously, you try to sneak in the shower at night when you think it’s safer’.
Deborah initially shared a room at the home and didn’t know why she was suddenly moved to her own room. She now understands that this gave Mr Carlton the opportunity to frequently come into her room at night and rape her.
A social worker would visit Deborah in the home, but the meetings were usually in Mr Carlton’s office, so there was little opportunity to talk to her about him. Deborah and a number of other children got up the courage to walk to the local police station to report Mr Carlton, but the police officers just phoned the home to come and collect them, and they were taken back.
Soon after their return, Deborah was sitting in Mr Carlton’s office and he picked her up, chair and all, and threw her across the room. Deborah saw this as a threat. However, the sexual abuse stopped after that.
‘There was so much physical abuse of so many other staff members … and I don’t mean just a whack. Physical abuse was a daily occurrence.’ When another staff member hit Deborah with an iron bar, she walked out of the home and refused to go back.
When Deborah reported the incident with the iron bar to social workers, ‘it was just like they didn’t care, like as if I’d made it up or something. Like no one cared. And I’m thinking when you do speak out no one cares anyway … to me it was like I was the bad girl because I left [the home] and refused to go back. But what about him being accountable for his actions for the reasons why I ended up leaving, because I just couldn’t take any more abuse’.
Deborah told the Commissioner that ‘the abuse I went through altered me as a person’. She has always had trust issues, and when she was younger she used drugs, ‘because to me I disappeared from the world for a while’. Deborah made a decision to stop using drugs just before she got married, and now believes that in some ways her experiences in the homes made her a better person.
‘I think it was like the abuse that I received in homes is what took me to be a foster carer to start with. Because I wanted to know that I could tuck someone in bed at night and I was just tucking them in to say goodnight, and they’d be safe …
‘That’s why I had to come today … if people don’t come forward, even though I know it’s been bigger than what youse even expected and it’s even bigger than what … because I know a lot of people who haven’t come forward that have gone through worse than me, and if people don’t come forward it’s going to look like there was not much abuse at all. And there was.’
Deborah told the Commissioner, ‘I wish I could change the world … but I can’t’.