It was the early 1950s, and Georgie was still a toddler, when she and her dad contracted polio. He died the day Georgie was admitted to hospital, and her mother soon abandoned the children.
Georgie was made a ward of the state. Being very sick, she spent many years in the hospital’s ‘isolation’ unit which was reserved for people with serious diseases. Adult patients of both sexes lived alongside children with minimal staff supervision.
The first sexual abuse Georgie recalls happened when she was around five, but ‘maybe it was when I was younger and I don’t remember’. Adult men ‘wandered around in their checked dressing gowns all the time’, and would often take her into their rooms and digitally rape her.
Georgie thinks the people from the hospital must have known about the abuse. ‘Men don’t carry little girls down to their bedroom and leave the doors open.’
Her obvious distress during the abuse did not to attract any attention. ‘I used to be crying in these men’s bedrooms, and nobody came. I’d see people walking past. Nobody did a thing.’
Even the injuries she sustained were not enough to get anyone in authority to take action. ‘At night, we’d have a bath, and I’d be swollen and red and sore. And I’d say to the nurses, "I’m sore".’ They would tell her, ‘dirty girl, put your hands away. I can still hear them saying it, because I was always sore’.
Georgie was also abused by a male orderly and two female nurses, who took photos of her naked on numerous occasions.
There was a family who would take Georgie out on holidays and weekends, and the teenage sons would sexually abuse her too.
Aside from the sexual abuse, Georgie told the Commissioner about being physically abused by the nurses, and having property stolen. The hospital made the children make up cotton swabs and roll bandages at night for hours on end until their hands were red raw.
She was not fed well, and would wet herself because she was not assisted to go to the bathroom. There was a room where child patients had school lessons, but the teacher often kicked her out for having head lice, boils, or conjunctivitis.
Georgie did not disclose any of the abuse during her years at the hospital. ‘They were accountable to nobody, as I had no parents to tell.’ Her grandmother visited occasionally, but she wasn’t able to talk to her about what was happening.
When Georgie was eight she was moved to a home for ‘crippled children’, as the polio had left her with mobility issues. Conditions were not good there, and the children were flogged frequently with straps. She stayed there, and in an orphanage next door, until she was 14, when her mother eventually remarried and her stepfather adopted her.
Georgie does not feel the abuse had a significant impact on her life, and has never considered counselling. In her teens she found work and met her husband. She was married soon after, and raised a family. She remembers sexual intimacy with her husband was difficult, as ‘I’d been just destroyed, really’.
Georgie’s daughter Yvette accompanied her when she met with the Commissioner. She told her mother, ‘I think it’s had a profound effect on you – it’s just that you’re used to living with it’.
Describing herself as an ‘overprotective mother ... bordering on being ridiculous’, Georgie said that she wouldn’t let her children stay with other people when they were young because ‘I just didn’t trust anybody’.
Yvette said that although Georgie presents with a tough exterior, the impact of the abuse ‘is in all of her relationships, and all of her decisions in her life have been shaped by what occurred [to her] as a child’.
As yet, Georgie has not taken any civil or criminal action in relation to the abuse, and recognises that all the men who abused her would now be dead. After receiving a referral to a legal advice service, she is considering reporting it to the institutions concerned.
‘They all got away with what they did. No one was ever reported. They knew what was going on – they would have to have known.’