Loretta was taken into the care of New South Wales Department of Community Services (DOCS) and made a ward of the state because her mother was single and a sex worker, and her grandparents were too old to look after her.
In the 1970s, Loretta was five years old, and she and her older sister were placed in foster care with Fred and Norma Howard. The Howards had two children of their own, Billy and Greg, living with them.
Loretta’s first experience of sexual abuse was when Billy, seven years her senior, tried to ‘finger me’.
She didn’t tell anybody, partly because she was already being physically abused by Norma for being a bed-wetter. As punishment Norma used to make her have cold showers and lie on the cold linoleum floor, and on occasions she’d hit her with a piece of timber. When Loretta was 13 she struck back at Norma, and the beatings stopped.
Soon after, Fred started sexually abusing Loretta, and this continued for the next six years. Fred would say that he was ‘teaching’ her and that it was their secret. She couldn’t disclose the abuse because she didn’t know any different and there was no one to report it to.
A welfare officer visited every three to six months, but it was a different officer each time and they mainly spoke to Norma. At school, Loretta started acting out but no one approached her to ask the reasons behind her behaviour.
‘I turned into a rebel at school; that was my release sort of sign, but no one picked up on it.’
She dropped out three weeks into Year 10, when she was given the choice to leave or be expelled.
One day Greg Howard saw his father sexually abusing Loretta and reported it to his mother. Norma’s response was to leave Fred. The children were left in Fred’s sole care until Norma’s return several years later.
When Loretta was 19, she became pregnant to Fred and had a termination. This prompted her to tell her then boyfriend about the abuse and he helped her to leave. She ‘got out’ when she was 20 years old.
In the 2010s, Loretta reported the sexual abuse to police but was told no further action could be taken as both Fred and Norma were deceased. She didn’t report the sexual abuse by Billy. Around this time, she engaged the services of a lawyer to pursue a civil case against DOCS, which is still in progress.
Loretta told the Commissioner that she continues to have difficulty with DOCS. Her children, stepchildren, and grandchildren have all been removed under DOCS orders and placed into care. She believes that her eight-year-old daughter was sexually abused within two weeks of her removal, and is fighting for the children’s return. She blames DOCS – who she refers to as ‘the company’ – for acting on inadequate and false information in removing the children and says she wasn’t informed beforehand that such action was imminent. ‘I’m sick of them walking all over people and destroying people’s lives.’
Until recently, Loretta hadn’t sought medical or psychological help for the sexual abuse or other difficulties in her life.
‘The only time I went to a doctor was when I had appendicitis and when I was pregnant. I’ve just held it all inside and that’s what’s been sending me round the twist. I was taken away and done wrong by the company and my stepson was taken away and my grandchildren were taken away. Now my children are taken and I’ve got a big fight on my hands for a lot of children.’