Kathy spent the first few years of her life bouncing between her mother’s place and various care homes. In the mid-1960s, when she was just a toddler, the living situation with her mother failed completely and she was put into permanent care in a group home in Melbourne.
Around this time, Kathy started to spend some weekends and most school holidays with a foster family, the Mackenzies. She told the Commissioner she was sexually abused by Mr Mackenzie multiple times from when she was about three until she was 11. Kathy’s early memories of the abuse are vivid in some parts but hazy in others.
‘I remember, excuse the expression, I had to do a handjob. I remember waking up but I can’t remember seeing a face. But at 11 I remember sitting on one side of the table and Mr Mackenzie would be on the other side, but I don’t think he realised I could see everything and he was doing his bizzo. And he used to put me in bed and touch me.’
Kathy said that the abuse happened only when Mr Mackenzie’s wife was out of the house. Mrs Mackenzie was a kind woman whom Kathy liked and trusted. ‘She was beautiful. She was probably about the only one that showed me love, you know cuddles and that.’ Kathy was also close to the Mackenzies’ two daughters. Looking back, she suspects that one of the daughters knew what her father was doing and tried to protect Kathy from him.
Kathy said that as a child she never told anyone about the abuse because she felt she was somehow responsible for it. Still, she would act out sometimes to try and get help and attention. Her usual method was to cut chunks out of her hair with a razor blade.
‘I think it’s just to kill the pain I suppose. It makes it more real, what you can see. Because you can’t see when you’re being sexually abused.’
The abuse ended when Kathy was about 11. She said, ‘Mr Mackenzie and I had a bit of a fallout too. He slapped me across the face because I think I started retaliating. And this is why after 11 I can’t remember him touching me after that’.
From there Kathy tried to push the memories of the abuse out of her mind, but they kept creeping back in and affecting her in ways she didn’t understand until much later.
‘You can’t have a proper relationship. Man and woman. When it comes to being intimate, the only time I can have sex is if I’m drunk. I can’t do it any other way, because I just feel dirty or something, and I shouldn’t have to.’
Kathy ended up marrying a man who was physically and psychologically abusive. The marriage lasted almost a decade and when it finally fell apart, Kathy’s memories of the abuse came flooding back. She decided to seek help from a psychologist.
‘I told him I married a man that actually looked like him, Mr Mackenzie. Because I looked up to him. I thought I was sick … I said, “Am I sick?” And he goes, “No, you’re just going to what you’re familiar to”.’
Kathy has never taken legal action against her abuser or the institution but she said she’s now considering it. In the meantime she does her best to cope with the ongoing, unpredictable effects of the abuse.
‘It disabled me. Physically I’m alright, but just some days I can’t function. It’s too much.’