Erin told the Commissioner, ‘This interview for me feels like a real double-edged sword. And that’s partly because, not only with the initial abuse but with subsequent abuses, I’ve had people in positions of authority that have betrayed me’.
In the mid 1970s, when Erin was 14, she had to undergo an operation at a children’s hospital. After surgery she woke to find a male staffer digitally penetrating her. The man quickly left the room when he realised she was awake. Erin didn’t know who he was and she never saw him again.
Erin was profoundly affected by the incident. It stunted her ability to establish healthy boundaries and this left her vulnerable to further abuses.
‘I didn’t know what felt safe and what didn’t feel safe … Not being able to recognise the early red flags of being unsafe or triggered, and that’s made it that I’ve put myself in a lot of compromising situations.’
In her 20s she began a ‘search for answers’, which made her even more susceptible to exploitation. She joined a cult for a while. She attended a spirituality workshop and was preyed upon by the teacher. ‘This therapist betrayed me and sexually abused me in that workshop, which just devastated me completely. I just fell apart.’
In other workshops Erin witnessed teachers taking advantage of their students. This was enough to bring back an onslaught of retraumatising memories that Erin was powerless to predict or avoid.
‘I think the impacts of trauma roll into every area of your life. And yes, I believe you can heal quite a lot, but it just seems like there’s damage that’s been done and I haven’t found a way to kind of not get triggered.’
The impacts that Erin has experienced include low self-esteem, chronic anxiety, fear of abandonment, hyper-vigilance, nervous breakdowns, ‘turbulent relationships’, extreme sensitivity to stress, and lack of trust. These ailments have had flow-on affects such as ill physical health and loss of employment opportunities.
She has also experienced other, deeper forms of loss.
‘A loss of moving into womanhood in a respectful way. A strong sense of unfairness and injustice. I’ve worked hard to not kind of live from a victim space, but I have to acknowledge at the same time … a strong sense of disempowerment. And there’s rage that goes along with that disempowerment.’
These feelings have been exacerbated by the disappointing experiences Erin has had every time she has sought redress. In the mid 1990s, she rang the hospital where the first abuse had taken place. She requested that they review their protocols and ensure that no child was ever left alone.
The hospital representative acknowledged that her area of the hospital didn’t really deal with these sorts of matters, but she didn’t offer to redirect Erin’s complaint anywhere else. She promised to raise the matter at the next committee meeting and get back to Erin. She never did.
Similarly, every time Erin has sought redress for one of the other abuses she suffered, she has been ignored or dismissed. This has left her with a sense that ‘my hurts don’t matter’.
Erin had many practical recommendations to pass on to the Commission, including that no child should be left alone in a hospital, that staff should be trained to provide a trauma-informed complaints process, and that there should be an independent body to assess the way that hospitals deal with patients’ complaints.
She said that in the absence of any recourse for the harms she suffered, it was important for her to make her recommendations to an official body and to have her story heard. She wants more but doubts that she’ll get it.
‘I have a need for redress from the hospital. I don’t think I’m going to get it. But I just want to state that I do have a need for that, for an acknowledgement of trauma caused, and an apology.’