Donna grew up in a house of extreme neglect in a country area in Tasmania. She was one of many children and both parents were violent and heavy drinkers. Each school holiday from the age of six, Donna was sent with her sisters to a camp for underprivileged children. ‘From that first visit, the only kindness I knew was when one of the staff took me to town on the last day and bought me an ice-cream.’
On the first night in the camp, Donna was told she wasn’t well. She was given something to drink, and recalls waking up in a large bed with a man lying on top of her.
‘He really hurt me and then I passed out because of the pain. I remember waking up back in my own bed and someone swaddling me with a towel, because I was bleeding.’
Donna told the Commissioner that she was given more medication and she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. ‘The next two nights I was left alone, but I was made to stay in bed. I couldn’t walk. I remember crying, wanting to go home, and a nurse came in and gave me a walloping with a cane. The third night it happened again with the same man.’
Donna said the man put his hand over her face to stop her screaming and crying. ‘It was terrifying. The same thing happened again.’ She thought the man may have been a groundsman at the camp.
‘To this day, certain smells, like motor oil, I can’t be around. That smell send chills up the back of my spine.’
A note came home from the camp saying that Donna had been sick, and was naughty, and that they might not have her back. When Donna tried to disclose the abuse to her mother, she was beaten and told that if she repeated her lies, her mother would tell everyone that Donna had had sex with a priest. ‘She used to call me the devil after that.’
The same man abused Donna over several years when she went to the camp. When she was 11, she told her maternal grandmother about the abuse.
Her grandmother was sympathetic and believed Donna, but felt that if she took any action, Donna’s mother would prevent them having further contact with each other.
After her mother died in the early 1970s, Donna was forced by her father to leave home. He then treated one of Donna’s sisters as his ‘wife’, and they later had a child. Donna left the state but returned several years later to remove her sister and the child. The police told her father that if he left the women alone, they wouldn’t press charges.
Donna told the Commissioner that she’d struggled with alcohol and drugs and abusive relationships throughout her life, but that she was in a good place now. She had secure employment and was close to her children and her grandchildren. She hadn’t ever reported the sexual abuse, even though she’d seen psychologists over the years about other things. After hearing about the Royal Commission, she’d recently confided in a chaplain she knew, ‘because she doesn’t take notes’.
Donna suggested that people working with children should go through a central national screening process. ‘That way, nobody gets under the smokescreen anymore. You can’t undo what’s done, but you can stop it going on.’