Debra grew up in a Presbyterian Children’s Home in Melbourne in the 1950s. When she was five years old, she and her sisters were fostered by Frank and Linda Hall. Over the next seven or so years, Frank, a lay minister for the Presbyterian Church, sexually and physically abused Debra and her sisters on multiple occasions.
‘He would be naked and he would walk into our rooms,’ Debra told the Commissioner. ‘And I only had myself to cuddle, I only had myself to talk to. I didn’t have anyone to go to. And I can remember him hearing me, and as soon as I heard his footsteps coming to my bedroom I pretended I was asleep. I’ve never be so afraid of anyone as I’ve been afraid of him. He’s just a monster.’
Debra said that Frank deliberately kept her and her sisters in separate rooms so that they couldn’t talk to each other. Frequently he would torment the girls and concoct reasons to belt them. ‘He would ask me to make him a cup of tea and then as I’m bringing it back from the kitchen to the lounge room he’d clap his hands and then I’d drop it in fear, because I was a very timid child, I was a very scared child.’
Debra was too frightened to report the abuse to anyone. Sometimes a social worker visited the house to check on her, but on these occasions Debra’s foster mother always sat in on the meetings and so Debra would lie and pretend that everything was okay. What was worse, Debra said, was that the family maintained this pretence even after the social worker left and there were no outsiders around.
‘We never discussed anything. We only discussed if it made you feel happy. You wouldn’t discuss private things, you wouldn’t discuss – I mean, I can remember when I got assaulted by Frank’s brother and we tried to take that to the foster mother, and we did take it to the police station but it didn’t go anywhere because the foster mother just wanted to sweep it under the carpet. She would say you were lying.’
Looking back, Debra often wonders why Frank and Linda chose to adopt children at all. And she wonders how Linda could have stood back and let the abuse happen for so many years.
‘Why isn’t she dobbing him into the police? Why did she allow him to do it? I believe she would say, “My God will change this man. My God will heal this man, and my God will turn him into a nice man”. So years and years go down the track and us poor girls are copping it and she’s not doing a damn thing.’
In 2000 Debra came forward and reported Frank and his brother to police. She said the police discouraged her from pursuing the case and so the matter was dropped. Recently, however, Debra has started debating with herself whether she’ll try again. She feels conflicted because she wants the offenders brought to justice but she’s wary and fearful of the court process.
‘I’ve heard that the victim gets pulled apart and the offender gets a slap on the wrist or whatever. I heard they can be really horrible to you in the court room. I don’t even know whether I’d be strong enough. I wish I was a stronger person. I would love to have him in jail for what he done.’