Lotte was less than two years old when her family emigrated from Europe to regional New South Wales in the early 1950s. Lotte’s father took on any work he could find to support the family while her mother looked after the children. When Lotte was 15, her father developed health issues, so Lotte left school in order to work and help out financially. Later that same year her father passed away.
The following year Lotte became pregnant. The father asked Lotte to marry him but deserted her one week before the wedding. Pregnant and unmarried in the mid-1960s, Lotte was sent to a Salvation Army-run hostel for girls in situations like hers.
‘I stayed there for a while until I couldn’t take what was going on there … There were girls committing suicide. The matron was cruel … It was horrible, it was absolutely horrible. I got bashed.’
After Lotte became particularly distressed about her treatment at the hostel, a friend picked her up and took her to a psychiatric facility in Sydney, ‘because I was in such a state’. Lotte did not have a psychiatric diagnosis but went there as it was one of the very few options available to unmarried pregnant girls at the time.
Life at the psychiatric facility was lonely and Lotte was largely ignored by the staff and residents there. The night before Lotte gave birth, a male nurse came into her room and forced himself on her. ‘I think he was about 24 but I can’t be sure of that. He could have been older but I’m not really sure ... That was the first time I ever seen him and the last time I ever saw him.’
Lotte reported the rape immediately to the head sister who said she would write a report, but no action was taken. ‘After she said that she was busy hustling me off, because she reckoned that I had to go straight to the hospital. And I didn’t understand that I was in labour because I didn’t know what labour was, nobody told me anything.’
When asked if the rape occurred during the final term of her pregnancy, Lotte told the Commissioner ‘I think it was full term, I’m not quite sure. See, nobody spoke to me, it was like I didn’t exist’.
Lotte was sent to a hospital in Sydney, where she gave birth to a daughter. She wanted to disclose her rape but was not given the opportunity. ‘They hustled me off in an ambulance. They wouldn’t let me talk to anybody …
‘I think I was too frightened to tell anybody at the time because it was such a shocking thing. I tried to tell them at [the] hospital because I was so bruised, and I thought somebody’s gonna ask me and I’m gonna tell them what’s happened. But nobody did.’
After giving birth to her child, Lotte stayed at the hospital for a few days while her daughter was given up for adoption. ‘I remember because they forced me into it.’ After being discharged, Lotte slept in a car outside the facility but was readmitted after suffering a haemorrhage two weeks later. She asked to see her baby but wasn’t allowed to.
‘I wanted to get her, I wanted to get her back. They couldn’t take my baby away from me like that. She was mine, nobody else’s. She was my baby!’
With her baby taken from her, Lotte worked in Sydney for a few months before returning home to live with her mother, who did not want to discuss Lotte’s pregnancy, labour or child. Not long after, Lotte sought to fill the gap of her missing child. ‘I moved out, I got married. I did a stupid thing because I’d lost my baby, I wanted another baby … that was a mistake.’
Eventually Lotte had another three children with different longterm partners. The relationships did not survive, although Lotte was able to retain custody of her children. ‘I wasn’t gonna give another child up. They couldn’t make me do that again.’
Years later Lotte’s firstborn daughter, then 14 years old, was returned to her after her adoptive mother decided she no longer wanted her. The return of her daughter caused the already fraught relationships with her three other children to become even more tense.
‘As soon as they found out that they had another sister they didn’t want very much to do with me. And it’s still today they haven’t forgiven me for it …
‘We don’t have a relationship at all … The trouble is now I’ve got cancer and I would dearly love to have the opportunity to explain to them that I love them just as much as I loved her, but they don’t wanna listen.’
Lotte’s children are all adults now and while the three younger ones don’t maintain contact, she has a strong relationship with her eldest daughter. ‘I wrote her a letter and explained everything to her and it just sort of clicked with her. And she rang me up and she said “Oh Mum, I do love you so much and I forgive you”. And that was the turning point, it was just wonderful after that.’
These days Lotte uses a wheelchair, the result of an accident nearly 30 years ago. She remarried and is supported by her husband. Lotte receives counselling through the Spinal Association which she says is very helpful. She never reported the rape to the police and does not want to cause further distress by bringing it up now. ‘He’d be an old man now and he’s probably got a wife and grandchildren and why should they be hurt?’ She has, however, recently engaged the services of a compensation lawyer with the hope of an apology from the institution that failed to protect her.
‘All I would really, really like at the end of the day is for somebody that was there at the time to say “I’m sorry that happened to you”. It would make a hell of a difference to me.’