Gladys was nine when her mother abandoned the family, leaving her and her younger brother George with her father. Though he did the best he could on his own, he eventually surrendered them to a Presbyterian children’s home in Melbourne in the mid 1950s. They were not made wards of the state, and their father paid for their care.
The girls at the home were regularly inspected for worms. This entailed dropping their pyjama pants and bending over, while the matron used a long spoon-like instrument to examine them. The minister of the orphanage, Reverend Lester, would hold the lamp for the matron during this intrusive procedure.
One day Gladys was in trouble and Lester summoned her into his room. He chastised her, telling her to drop her pants and bend over. She assumed she was going to receive the strap, however the minister inserted his fingers into her vagina.
‘It was very violent, he had big long fingernails, and he threw me on the desk and he pushed them up there ... I’m sure he was raping my anus at that time.’
After this he put his penis into her mouth, and she unintentionally bit down. When she let go Lester flung her across the room, causing her a significant injury.
In another incident, the minister ‘gets me into the bathroom, and he rapes me in the bathroom over a sink’. He then pulled out a cutthroat razor and ‘threatens me for swearing or something’, before cutting her arms with the blade.
Gladys was abused by Lester on other occasions too, and sometimes she would see him with other kids. ‘It would have happened many times. I got to the point I was glad if somebody had to go into the office. Isn’t that awful?’ Gladys doesn’t remember if the minister had a ‘reputation’ with the children at the home, just that ‘he was evil. He tortured me’.
In addition to these sexual assaults, she was physically abused by Lester and other members of staff. ‘It was a bit like the movie Oliver Twist. We had to scrub floors, wash floors, this minister used to hit me on the head with the Bible ... I had a mouth like a sewer. I was always getting hit in the head, my mouth washed out with soap.’ Beatings for misbehaviour were common, and if children wet the bed (like she did), they had their faces rubbed in their dirty sheets.
Eventually Gladys’s father visited and noticed that she had welts on her legs from being belted, and took her and George out of the home after they had been there a year or so. She never told him about the sexual abuse.
As her father worked two jobs (including working at night), he was still unable to care for them, so he placed them with an older couple for the next year. After this they moved interstate and Gladys was sent to another home, which she enjoyed. There were further moves including an unsuccessful attempt to place them back with their mother (during which time her mother’s new partner tried to sexually assault Gladys).
Gladys first fell pregnant in her teens, and married her husband in the early 1970s. Her family knows some things about her childhood, but not details of the sexual assaults by Lester.
Her husband ‘knows a little bit ... I did tell him maybe three months ago that it was molestation. Look, it’s funny really, because he’s a great guy, but I can’t really talk to him about this. Not really. And when I did say something, he said, “Why could you be with me all these years and not tell me?” Because I switched off from it’.
Her kids don’t know anything about the abuse, ‘but they weren’t happy the way I brought them up. They thought I was too harsh’. As well as raising her family, Gladys is proud of the charity work she has done over the years. During some of this work she reported members of the clergy to police regarding her suspicions they were sexually abusing children.
Gladys did not talk to her brother George about the assaults for many years, until he disclosed he had also been raped at the home. He had a troubled life, including a marriage breakdown and drug abuse, and is now dead. It is very important to Gladys that his story is known too.
Gladys has had trouble dealing with authority figures, sleeping problems, relationship issues, experiences vivid flashbacks, is hypervigilant, and has difficulties trusting people.
‘I’m actually shut down. I mean, I don’t go out, I hardly go out the door. I’ve got my two dogs, I’ve got my husband – he does the shopping.’
Recently Gladys approached a solicitor about her options for compensation. He advised her to report to police, and to seek some support for the troubles she has been experiencing.
She has now made a statement to police, and is receiving counselling through an organisation for child sexual abuse survivors. Her legal team has advised her they will begin an application for victims of crime compensation once they have received enough supporting material.