‘The sexual abuse started when I was eight, by three members of the one family. And a dog.’
The family acquired Hayley via the Department of Community Services (DOCS), which claimed she was a neglected infant. The three year old had no sustained memories of her previous life, but on reflection the now 60-year-old Sydneysider said, ‘I would rather have been neglected than be abused’.
But little children have no choice. Eric Dixon and his wife lived in a large house with two adult sons, both of whom were married with children. There was a changing population of foster children; Hayley’s stay, at nearly 13 years, was by far the longest. And the cruelest.
There were beatings from all family members – ‘I got belted over the head with a saucepan … I’ve still got the scar on my head from being hit with a hammer – they told the doctor I fell off my sister’s shoulders … One time I was 20 minutes late, so I got 20 lashes with the belt from the father. I was hit an extra time if I cried out in pain.’
Dixon and his sons raped Jessica, anally and vaginally, on a regular basis. ‘And I know they were doing it to one other girl … But she wasn’t put in the dog kennel.’
Eric Dixon bred dachshunds; there was a large, walk-in kennel enclosure on the property. One day he took nine-year-old Hayley there, locked the door and ‘stimulated’ a dog. ‘He put me in that kennel and he worked the dog up, and then forced the dog’s penis inside me.
‘That happened twice – that’s disgusting, that’s horrible!’
The Dixons were careful abusers. They weren’t going to risk intercourse when their crime might be revealed by a chance pregnancy – and Hayley managed to work on this fear. ‘I had to let them know when I got my period – so I lied. I said it had come a year before it really did.’
But this didn’t end the abuse. The men switched to penetration with household objects. ‘They used things like brushes … that was horrible, too.’
In later years Hayley accessed her records: ‘There was nothing, just my name and the date I went into foster care.’ Plus notes of the many times Hayley’s mother tried to get her back – and the repeated refusals.
Welfare officers did visit but never spoke to Hayley alone. ‘I remember DOCS coming in, but not seeing me by myself. There was always one of the family with me; I used to get a kick under the table. In other words, “Don’t say a word”. I used to get that pelted into my little head.’
Once again, every care was taken to conceal the cruelty. Beatings were usually administered where bruises wouldn’t show. ‘And the mother made this little sponge to go inside my knickers, so that when I sat down with the DOCS, I didn’t go “Uuuuuh!”’
Hayley is certain the mother was aware of the sexual abuse.
Finally, in her mid-teens, Hayley was rescued. A boy she had become friends with turned up with his older brothers; he insisted she leave the ‘house of horrors’ to come and live with his family.
‘The Dixons said I’d never become nothing, that nobody would want me. And I always believed that.’ Over forty years later, those two teenagers are still happily married with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
‘I felt safe with him – and his mum and dad, and his brothers and sisters,’ said Hayley. ‘They’re my family now.’
Yet although she projects a positive attitude - ‘You’ll always see me walking around with a smile on my face’ - Hayley is struggling inside. ‘I’m always agitated and have panic attacks. I never go anywhere … I spend most days in my room with my television and my laptop.
‘I still look around me sometimes to see if that man’s behind me … I can’t even cross the road by myself … Getting on trains and buses is a massive struggle.’
Recently, Hayley consulted a law firm about seeking redress, and has found a counsellor who has provided much comfort. ‘She brought me out of that dark place.’
Several months ago, Hayley approached police about charging the one Dixon son still alive – then had a change of heart. ‘I had a dream that the family were going to come after me. So I rang up and cancelled it.’
The years of trauma have cast a long shadow.
‘Maybe one day I’ll get rid of the dirt and cleanse myself … I always feel dirty.’