Kirsty Simone's story

‘I wasn’t doing that well at school at that point, people telling me I could do better if I applied myself. But then I had my eyes fixed on this teacher and I started putting notices on his car.

'So I did pursue him. I’m not going to say I didn’t, I was pursuing something, I don’t know what it was. Just someone to look after me or some awful, kind of, pathological thing maybe. I don’t know … because I don’t want to say, “He came and did this to me”. But, you know, it was inappropriate what he did. His response should have been, “I need to refer this girl to the counsellor”.'

Kirsty was born in the early 1970s and spent her young life in Melbourne. Before she was two, her father placed her and her older brother in an orphanage where he would come and visit them. After four years, the children returned to live with their father but were removed shortly afterwards, due to neglect. Kirsty and her brother were then made wards of the state.

Kirsty was about six when she and her brother were fostered by Frances and Gordon Hewson. The family included an adopted son, Josh, who was four years older than Kirsty.

Frances Hewson was extraordinarily cruel. ‘She was a tyrant of a woman … We were there to do the chores.’ Kirsty witnessed Frances tying a younger child into his cot, and shaking him when he cried. Kirsty and her brother were with the Hewsons for five years.

Josh would sexually assault Kirsty in her bedroom. On one occasion he assaulted her in the outside toilet. ‘As a result of that I just started weeing in my bedroom, on the floor … I was pretty much petrified … I just got belted basically for that. So that’s how they managed it.’

Kirsty found the response worse than the abuse itself. ‘I was made to stand in front of the family and tell everyone what a dirty little girl I was.’ Then Gordon ‘belted the crap out of me’.

The sexual abuse stopped after that. Kirsty never told her foster parents about it, but her brother knew as he would see Josh go into her room.

Kirsty and her brother used to spend holidays with their aunt and uncle in Sydney. When Kirsty was about 10, they told their aunt about the cruelty in the foster home – but nothing about the sexual abuse. Their aunt then advocated for them to leave that placement. She was eventually successful, but it took about two years. Several years later, when Kirsty accessed her file, she found that the only reason given for them leaving the placement was a conflict between their aunt and the foster parents.

Kirsty and her brother were then fostered by a family in Sydney so that they could be close to their aunt and uncle. Kirsty describes this time as ‘amazing’. Her foster mother, a successful professional, became Kirsty’s ‘idol’. The father was a fine arts student. The household was ‘light-hearted’. Always a good student, Kirsty went to an academically selective school.

However, one year later Kirsty was given a choice she feels she should never have been offered. Because of her brother’s behaviour, he had to be removed from the placement. Kirsty was given the choice to stay or leave with him. Kirsty left and they both went to their aunt and uncle.

Not long afterwards, when Kirsty was in her mid teens, she started ‘getting angry’. Her aunt asked her to leave. Her brother stayed but Kirsty ‘went from one thing after another after that’.

Recently, Kirsty’s ‘idol’ foster mother contacted her through Facebook. When she heard what had happened after Kirsty left, she said, ‘Why didn’t they [Welfare] call me? I would have had you back.’ Kirsty told the Commissioner she found that ‘just awful to hear’. It’s an option she would have loved. Not being offered it was a failure in child protection.

There were more systemic failures to come.

After a short stay at a schoolfriend’s place, Kirsty, still a ward of the state, lived in supported accommodation. By then she had a boyfriend who was in his early 20s. He was the manager where she worked part-time. ‘I had this, you know, thing about being into these older blokes … looking for a father or something tragic’, she says, laughing.

Because she was living with an older man, she was removed and placed in residential care with a ‘bunch of kids’. Kirsty used to slip out at night to visit her boyfriend and be back by morning. Next, Kirsty was moved into an independent living situation, in a house near her school. She worked, paid rent and went to school. But it was always difficult to manage financially.

In Year 10, Kirsty’s grades started to slip and she became fixated on a teacher, Robert Ballantine. Ballantine used to come to all the student parties – the only teacher who did. They had sex a couple of times and Kirsty became pregnant. When she told him, he said, ‘It’s not mine. It must be someone else’s’, even though Kirsty wasn’t seeing anyone else at that time. ‘He just wanted me to go away.’

Kirsty went to another teacher who was very supportive. This teacher and a few others organised an intervention with Ballantine and made him ‘deal with it’. Ballantine organised and paid for a termination. He took Kirsty to the clinic and then, afterwards, took her to a hotel and marked papers while she was lying in bed.

‘Then after that, he kept coming and having sex with me – for another year. And I let him’, Kirsty told the Commissioner. ‘Then I decided, in Year 12, enough of this shit. I’m not doing this anymore. Not having any boyfriends. I’m going to do well in my schooling … so that’s what I did.’

Meanwhile, Kirsty’s brother, whom she had told about the pregnancy, confronted the school principal about the issue. Kirsty was called to the principal’s office and questioned by two men – probably investigators. She didn’t know who they were and nothing was explained to her. Thinking she might be in trouble, she ‘freaked out’ and denied Ballantine made her pregnant.

Ballantine remained a teacher at the school. After the abortion, none of the teachers followed up with her to check if she was okay. They failed in their duty of care, Kirsty said. The school was more interested in whether or not she was wearing the standard uniform. The entire school knew about her relationship with Ballantine, for which she was sometimes mocked.

When Kirsty was in her early 20s, she went to the police about the abuse she had experienced both in foster care and at school. When she asked a previously supportive teacher to verify her claims, the teacher declined to assist. Shortly afterwards, Ballantine came to her house even though by then Kirsty was living interstate. She hadn’t seen him for four years. He offered her a coaching position on an overseas excursion. Kirsty thought it was ‘weird’ and suspected afterwards it was an inducement to stay quiet.

Not long after that, Kirsty received a call from the education department, saying they’d looked into it and Ballantine didn’t work there anymore. ‘That was it. So obviously something did happen, I think. But I don’t really know what.’ She never heard back from the police.

In her mid 20s, Kirsty tried to get compensation for the abuse she experienced in foster care. However, her former foster mother, Frances Hewson, hired a lawyer who threatened Kirsty on numerous occasions. Kirsty dropped the claim.

A few years after that, Kirsty went to Anglicare Victoria and received a small sum for counselling costs.

Kirsty did extremely well in the HSC. Although one of her goals was not to become a single mother, she became pregnant in her late teens. ‘How the hell did this happen?’ However, Kirsty went on to develop a successful career, and her eldest child is currently studying at university.

Kirsty is married, after two previous marriages. She experiences stress and needs to deal with her own health.

‘I didn’t realise until my mid 20s, and as I get older, the severity of the impact with the care experience … My fighting, survivor instincts got me through to 20.’ After that, Kirsty told the Commissioner, she had to ‘deal with it’.

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