Janice was born into a large family in Melbourne in the late 1940s. Three years later, the burden of caring for so many kids and an alcoholic husband got too much for their mother, and so Janice and her siblings were put into care.
Janice spent the remainder of her childhood in Catholic children’s homes where she suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse. At one home the nuns punished her by sending her to the cellar and making her wear a dress made from a hessian sack. The sack had been contaminated by mice and cats and as a result Janice contracted ringworm.
The nuns also beat and insulted her. The first time she got her period she didn’t understand what was happening and asked one of the Sisters for help.
‘She smacked me over the head and dragged me down the hallway, and she just said, “Dirty person” and told me I was bad and no one wanted me and stuff like that. They used to bring up about my dad and my mum. They used to say, “Your father’s an alcoholic”. And they’d get me in the corner and they’d go like that: “Now say it”. “My dad’s an alcoholic. My mum didn’t want me”.’
Even when she was a little girl, Janice knew that what the nuns were doing was wrong and she tried to speak up about it.
‘I got out of bed and went down the stairs on my bottom and they were all praying in the church, in the new chapel, and the archbishop he was opening the church and I told him what the nuns were doing to me. And they told the archbishop that I was sick, a sick girl, “Don’t take notice, she’s a sick girl”.’
Over the next few years Janice was twice taken to see the same doctor, and on both occasions he sexually abused her under the guise of an ‘examination’.
‘The first time there was two nuns at the centre of the bed and two nuns on the other end, and it was a skinny bed, and they had my hands up there like that, the nuns would hold my hands like that, and the doctor gave me an examination.’
On the second occasion the doctor did the examination alone. In the process he said to Janice ‘you shouldn’t have hair there’ and plucked out some of her pubic hair. Janice got up and ran into the next room where the nuns were having a cup of tea. She told them what the doctor had done but they dismissed her as a liar.
It was a harsh and loveless life, but from time to time, Janice got her own back.
‘My sister showed me her bruises. I said to my sister, “Who done the bruises on your back?” And my sister said, “The nuns did”. And I said, “I’ll get those nuns before I go”. And I did. Lifted the veil and kicked her. And then I ran away.’
Janice left the home in her late teens. Since then she’s struggled with mental health issues and anxieties about her kids and grandkids, but she’s always maintained her sense of humour and has never been shy about telling her story and getting help when she needs it.
Janice said that the main reason she came to the Royal Commission was to speak on behalf of her brother who died a few years ago, and on behalf of all the other people who grew up in care. ‘Even now, talking about it, it’s a load off my mind’, she said, ‘because I promised my brother. It’s a big help. Like, I’m upset now, but I’m happy’.