Louanne was born into a very orthodox Catholic family in Victoria in the early 1950s. When she was 12 years old she and her family went overseas and lived there for some years. She began to babysit their neighbour’s children. One night she was digitally raped by the father of the children.
‘I didn’t know I could say “No”. I didn’t know what to do.’
The abuse continued for a year and as a result of it, Louanne began to isolate herself from her family and friends and focused on her studies, becoming a model student. When her family returned to Australia, she was enrolled in a Catholic high school as a Year 11 student.
‘When we came back and I didn’t cope with my world, I came up with the most outlandish statements of what … had occurred to us [overseas]. There was no way in the world it could be believed.’
But instead of asking her why she was telling these stories, ‘the nuns said, “She needs psychiatric help. Go to this doctor”. So [my parents] took me to see [a psychiatrist].
‘I didn’t open up with him at all and after a number of months he decided to put me in [the Catholic psychiatric hospital].’
In her written statement to the Royal Commission, Louanne explained that she was 15 years old at the time. On her second day of admission the Sister asked a group of older girls to show her around the hospital and the grounds.
‘Instead, I was taken to one of the girls' rooms. My underwear was removed while [I was] being held down and it was used to gag me.’
The girls brutally sexually assaulted her. Louanne still has flashbacks to the pain and panic of the assault.
After this incident, and compounded by her ongoing clinical depression, Louanne began to act out.
‘I was doing things like cutting my wrists with a bread and butter knife until I finally found some blood … very obviously self-harming, just to say, “Help me”. There was no way this could possibly kill me at all.’
Her psychiatrist offered her two choices. One was to be sent to a different government-run ‘mental hospital’ or to undergo drug therapy with a new drug called psilocybin. This drug causes hallucinations, changes in perception of time and makes people open up to others. Her parents decided on the drug regime and the psychiatrist began the treatment. Shortly after, her parents brought her home from the hospital.
In the following days Louanne’s grasp on reality slipped culminating in an event that others believed to be a suicide attempt but which Louanne knows wasn’t.
‘That morning has been in my [head] for 40 odd years … I believe it was psilocybin … [it was] a battle raging in my head.’
Louanne was left with a disabling injury. When she was still recuperating from the surgery she was placed into the government-run psychiatric hospital she had wanted to avoid. She was 17 years old.
Again, Louanne was taken on an orientation tour of the facilities and grounds of the hospital by other patients.
‘This group of patients came and got me, and the grounds were very, very extensive … As soon as the group and me were out of sight of both wards, all but one of them disappeared and this man was left. All he said was “We make babies” … [he then] raped me.’
When Louanne was found and brought back to the ward, she demanded to see a doctor ‘because I’ve been raped’. But the nurse in charge didn’t think there was any need.
‘I insisted and the doctor came hours later’, but any psychological or emotional injury was dismissed and nothing was done about the perpetrator. As a result of the doctor’s response, and despite years of counselling, Louanne, believes that ‘ordinary rape just isn’t worth bothering about’.
In her 11 month stay in the hospital Louanne was also humiliated and sexually abused by two other older patients in the hospital.
‘The two women at the mental hospital, would take me to the bathroom, usually a few nights a week and after they had finished [sexually abusing her] they would use my face and mouth as a [toilet].’
She never reported any of her abuse because she didn’t have any confidence that she would be believed due to her psychiatric history. She didn’t know the names of her abusers at the time and thought that without their names and more substantive evidence, she wouldn’t be able to pursue them through the legal system.
Louanne has recently accessed her records from both institutions. She found it challenging to read them and also disappointing. Her records from the Catholic psychiatric hospital are incomplete and there are no references to the prescription of psilocybin.
Louanne experiences depression and a range of PTSD symptoms caused by the trauma she experienced in her early life. Through 15 years of one-on-one counselling she has gained some perspective on these events. She has had various addictions, alcohol, benzodiazepines and codeine, now, all in the past. She is considering pursuing the Victorian Government and the Catholic order who ran the psychiatric hospital for redress.