Emily Sarah's story

Emily remembers sitting in the street at age four, looking after her younger siblings while her parents got drunk in the pub. Some months later her baby brother was dying of malnutrition so Northern Territory Welfare stepped in. Emily and her siblings became wards of the state and, in the early 1960s, were put into the care of foster parents Doug and Josie Winslow.

The Winslows were ‘beautiful people’, Emily told the Commissioner. ‘They didn’t hurt me, didn’t harm me. They were my saviours. They gave me a life. They put me through education. Had I not been with them I’d probably be dead by now.’

The Winslows had a friend named John Robertson. ‘A man with grey hair’, Emily recalled. When the Winslows had to go out to a church meeting they would get Robertson to babysit the kids. ‘My siblings would go to bed and because I was the eldest I used to have to sit up with him until Mum and Dad came home.’

By this stage, Emily was beginning to develop breasts. Robertson would put his hand down her top and fondle her. ‘And he would say “Don’t say anything”.’ As Emily got older Robertson started taking her out in his car for driver training. ‘While we were driving he would put his hand up my skirt or shorts or whatever I had on and do those sort of things.’

As the abuse continued, Emily became more and more fearful and withdrawn. At the sight of Robertson’s car coming up the driveway she would take off and pretend to be engrossed in some chore around the farm so that he’d let her be. The strategy rarely worked and Robertson abused her for several years until, when she was in her late teens, he moved away.

Emily decided to put the whole thing behind her. ‘I just wanted to know where I was going and what I had to find in my life. I just wanted to move on and find someone that wanted to care for me.’

She started a relationship and had several kids. Emily described herself as an ‘overprotective’ mother. ‘I just didn’t want them near old people, old men.’ The fear she’d felt as a child morphed into mistrust and anger. When she saw paedophiles on the television she’d think ‘shoot them’.

For years Emily lived in a constant state of heightened emotion that took a toll on her health. ‘My stress is out the window … I get very anxious. No patience … I rush into things. I want to do something, I want it done now.’

A few years ago the stress built up to a point where Emily felt like she had to do something, so for the first time in her life she spoke about the abuse. She told her daughter and a close friend. With their support she’s now considering taking legal action against the Northern Territory Government.

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