Following a serious assault by her mother, Justine was made a ward of the New South Wales state in the early 70s when she was 12 years old. Family life had always been tumultuous and she and her siblings were placed into a children’s home, the two girls separated from their brothers. Not long after the children’s arrival, their mother came to tell them their father was dead.
‘The only time we had a meal together was the day they told us our father had died’, Justine said. ‘I found out later it was suicide.’
Almost immediately, Justine was taken to the home of a man to await her foster carers’ arrival. The man told her to call him ‘Uncle Jeff’ and in the few hours they were together, sexually abused her.
‘He put me onto his lap. He put his hands on my breasts, and I wasn’t very well-developed, I was a skinny waif of a girl, so I wasn’t really well-developed. He put his hands down my top and then he put his hands down my pants and I screamed and … I don’t how lucky I was, but within a minute of that happening [the foster carers] walked in the front door … They gathered my few things, I got in the car and … I never disclosed that to them because I didn’t know where I was going to end up next.’
After a brief placement with the foster carers, Justine was sent to a girls’ home in Sydney, a thousand kilometres away. Her mother was angry that she’d been charged with neglect and had requested the distant placement to what turned out to be a correctional facility. Before she left her home city and again on arrival in Sydney, Justine was subjected to ‘virginity tests’, something she described as being part of the dehumanising process.
‘The intrusive vaginal exams were the most abhorrent thing anybody should ever have to tolerate’, Justine said. ‘It looked like a shoehorn and they called it a duckbill and three to four times I was subject to those particular intrusive exams.’
Although she’d experienced ill-treatment in her home, Justine was astonished at the level of violence meted out by workers in the government-run facility. She remembered two girls who were put ‘in isolation’ and never allowed out. ‘They ate their meals in there. They weren’t allowed to interact with us girls at all. When we were at school I think they were allowed in the quadrangle.’ Another girl was drugged so heavily with Largactil that she’d fall asleep and be drooling in the classroom.
Justine said girls were constantly beaten, woken in the night for inspections and punished by the loss of the few existing privileges. Many girls harmed themselves with needles and sharp implements. The superintendent, Warren Dixon, physically and sexually abused the girls, a fact widely known and discussed by the residents, and known to other workers. Cruel acts were part of life and entered into freely by staff, including the ‘vile’ woman whose position was nurse at the clinic.
Justine told the Commissioner that she remembered recuperating alone in the sick bay after an ear operation in hospital when Dixon came into the room. He pulled down her blankets and pushed his hand up her gown and tried to fondle her breasts. Then he touched her vagina. His assault stopped when the nurse walked into the room. ‘I couldn’t scream’, Justine said. ‘And I don’t know why but I couldn’t scream, but I was so scared.’
When she was 14 years old, Justine returned to her home town. She didn’t know why she was permitted to leave as most girls were forced to stay until their late teens. At 16, she was in a violent relationship with a man five years her senior who broke her cheekbone and nose. Leaving him, Justine went to live with her grandparents, a time she described as the beginning of her happiness. ‘It was a family environment where I was welcome. That started in getting me away from the craziness. My life improved significantly.’
Justine had a daughter as a single mother at 18 years of age. She’d chosen not to disclose the pregnancy to her daughter’s father, making a conscious decision to get out of the abusive relationship. ‘I didn’t want to subject my daughter to any violence’, she said.
She later became a nurse and had another child, a son, who was now at university. ‘My daughter said I was very strict. She was never allowed to catch the bus to school. I had to take her every day and pick her up.’
Justine said she still carried a sense of shame about the abuse and wondered if she could have made her mother like her. ‘Could I have done something differently so I didn’t end up in that horrible place?’
She didn’t tell anyone about the sexual abuse until a few years ago.
‘I didn’t think anyone would believe me. A lot of it is shame. I felt if I didn’t talk about it, it didn’t happen.’
Among other recommendations, Justine suggested a ‘champion dads’ program to reinforce the role of fathers in their children’s lives. She thought that only women should be accepted into child care roles. She also perceived societal attitudes that considered the rape of a male more serious than that of a female needed to be confronted.
‘I’m not sure whether Warrren Dixon raped me in the sick bay on that day or not’, Justine said. ‘That’s what I’m not sure about, because I was dizzy and I thought, being younger, I thought it was because I’d had my operation … In my own mind I will never know. I know that sounds silly but I just don’t, but I do know he molested me. I’m not a drama person, I’m really not. I blacked out on a few occasions in my life, and it could well be that was one occasion.’