Felicity Ellen's story

‘I haven’t slept for a couple of weeks … I’ve been having night terrors. And now that it’s getting to this point, it’s like, really in my face, so I’m not getting any relief … This has been a lot of stress … Hopefully I can walk out of here and I can leave it with you guys and I can begin my life at last. I don’t know how that’s going to happen … [but] this is where it belongs.’

In the early 1970s, when Felicity was five years old, her mother died. Her father had no support, so he placed Felicity and her older sister Catherine in a non-denominational orphanage in New South Wales.

‘It was in the cinema and the washhouse that the abuse took place.’ Both Felicity and her sister wet their beds and were required to wash their own sheets. ‘We’d have to go up there on our own. There was a guy up there … and … [Catherine] told me the same thing happened to her …

‘The person would come up and I would remember the sound of something rubbing and I’d have a hand go up between the back of my legs … So that went on for the duration that we were there and of course, kept wetting the bed.’

When the children went to the cinema room in the orphanage, staff would come in and sit next to them and sexually abuse them in the dark. Felicity recalled one occasion when Catherine bit her own finger to make it bleed so that the sisters had to go to the infirmary. ‘She was actually protecting me.’

Felicity told the Commissioner, ‘I wet the bed until I was 18. I left [care] at 15, so it wasn’t an issue that went away easily. So the washhouse and the cinema. We didn’t want to be late in the picture cinema because you’d have to sit up the back …

‘My dad got married a couple of years later and I often wondered now why he never said anything … We wouldn’t let him wash us … as little girls … But none of that was acknowledged.’

Felicity and Catherine left the orphanage when Felicity was eight. Carers there would frequently bang the children’s heads against walls, and Felicity believes that this may have contributed to Catherine’s sudden death not long after they returned home.

After the death of her sister, Felicity began acting out so her stepmother sent her to a mental health facility that specialised in the problems of young people. She felt safe there and her psychiatrist told her, ‘You’re not crazy. It’s the adults around you’.

When she was released, Felicity was sent to a convent run by the Sisters of Mercy. The nuns were very physically abusive, and Felicity also witnessed one of them sexually abusing a baby.

When she reported the physical and sexual abuse to her state high school, the counsellor said, ‘Don’t be stupid. Go back to class’. When she went back to the convent after reporting the abuse, she was beaten again and found her bags packed, ready to go to another convent.

‘At this stage I was an adolescent and I was rebelling.’ Felicity witnessed ‘rampant sexual encounters at night-time’ between the nuns and female carers. ‘I learnt about vibrators, because I wanted to know what the noise was at night-time. They showed me.’

As children, Felicity and her sister felt they couldn’t tell anyone about the abuse. ‘You can’t. It’s impossible … As a little wee child, Catherine and I didn’t talk to anyone … Children in those days were to be seen and not heard. There was no one we could talk to at all because we were scared and it hurt and we thought we’d done something wrong …

‘[At the first convent] … I went straight away the next day to school. I told them what I’d seen and told them what had happened and I was dismissed and I felt so much anger … I didn’t want to go back … By the time I got to [the second convent] I was clammed up. There was no way you’re going to get … me to talk about anything.’

Felicity told the Commissioner, ‘At 15 I just lost it’. She ‘popped a nun, and walked out … It was two years before they even told my father that I was out on the streets … I’ve only hit two people in my life. One was a nun and one was my ex-husband. They both deserved it. I’m not a violent person’.

The physical and sexual abuse Felicity experienced in care has had a huge impact on her adult life. ‘I didn’t lose my virginity until I was about 23. I didn’t want to know about it. There was no penile penetration. It was just hands. And it freaks me out now. Even now … I have to sleep with the light on.’

After two years on the streets, Felicity got married and had children. After escaping from her abusive husband, she brought her children up in isolation where he couldn’t find them. She shielded her children doggedly to ensure they never experienced abuse of any kind while they were growing up.

Now, ‘I don’t have a life. It’s like living in hell. It’s like … a walking death … I’ve got to try and re-invent myself again and deal with the depression that comes from all this … I don’t socially connect with people, because I don’t like big crowds and I don’t trust people. So I sit in my room most of the time and I do art work’.

‘I want these people to be accounted for. I want a life. I don’t want to have nightmares anymore. It’s going to take time to wind down from this but I know in my mind and my heart that this is the highest I can go. This is the furthest I can go. I’ve kept a promise to my sister … I have to let it go …

‘I need closure. I need to let my sister rest. I need to stop after this … I’m trying to shut the door on the pain.’

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