When Louise was around 10 years old her mum, Deidre, was concerned about her growth and development. She took Louise to see Dr Winston, a paediatric specialist in Melbourne. Mother and daughter both met with the Commissioner to discuss what happened during these examinations.
It was the early 1980s, and they met with Dr Winston in his private consultation rooms. Louise was examined alone, but Deidre didn’t feel concerned. ‘I was put into a room with nice magazines, and he used to say, “Come with me, Louise”. I trusted him.’
In the examination area, Louise would be instructed to strip naked and lie down on a table. She remembers herself as ‘a goody two-shoes’ who would always do as she was told, and that the doctor’s position of authority dissuaded her from disobeying him. ‘You are a child, so you just follow, you know, get told what you need to do.’
Dr Winston sexually abused Louise during these consultations. ‘I just didn't understand what was going on, but because he was masturbating me, like I felt things, and I just didn't know.’
Still, she felt that what he was doing was wrong. ‘I remember the feelings I got when I used to have to go there. I would act out, because I just didn't want to go there.’ Deidre recalls Louise ‘coming out to me, as a little girl ... And she was like this, “I'm not going back to that man. Not going back to that man”. I just patted her on the shoulder. Dreadful.’
Louise did not feel able to tell her mother what the doctor was doing to her. Now, she recognises what Dr Winston did as sexual abuse. ‘I understand now that's what it was, yes ... I couldn't put it together for a long time, until you start to work out what's appropriate and what's inappropriate.’
This abuse happened half a dozen times over the year that Louise saw Dr Winston. ‘I remember just the degradation that happened when he had had me standing there naked in this room and he would weigh me, he would do all this stuff.
‘And I think the thing that really, isn't it funny, that shattered me was when he flicked my underpants at me and said, “You can get dressed now” ... That was the trigger where I realised I was – I thought I was nothing, and that became my belief system.’
As a teenager, Louise became anorexic. ‘It eats away at your soul ... I didn't know how to deal with it.’ Later on she began drinking heavily, ‘you know, you are stripped bare within, and I tried to find solace through alcohol’.
‘I went to the darkest of darkest places, to the gates of hell, and I thought the only option was to drink myself to death. And that was, you know, a lot of years of being baffled, just being baffled within myself. I couldn't work out why I hated myself so much.’
Although Louise was successful in her job, her self-esteem crashed, and she felt inadequate beside the people she worked with. ‘You push stuff to the side and you survive, like you just survive life and you try to be okay, but I wasn't normal, I couldn't have relationships, I never got married, I never had kids. Because I just felt like a freak as a human being, and that. I just survived.’
In her late 30s Louise became seriously ill from alcohol abuse. At this time she finally disclosed the abuse to Deidre, who felt ‘dreadful. Because I trusted a man who ruined Louise’s young life’.
Louise has seen a psychologist, and is currently taking anti-depressants. She been sober for five years now, after a great deal of intervention and support from Deidre and family. ‘I did a lot of damage to my family, but one of the beautiful things about unconditional love of the family is that they do love you.’
She counts herself lucky to have good friends too. ‘I think that's one of the things that I have been gifted on this planet, a lot beautiful friends, like really, really good quality people, that have been the whole path with me – they didn't cast me aside. They stayed in my corner. Absolutely.’
After spending time in a rehabilitation facility, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Louise again has a successful career, and is doing postgraduate studies.
‘Getting sober's been the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's enabled me to come here today. I haven't had to have a drink to come here. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to have a drink when I leave here, and I'm going to have my integrity and dignity intact. And that's the path that I try to stay on these days, and just try and be the best person that I can be. Just keep doing the next right thing.’
A few years ago Louise attended her local police station, and made a report about Dr Winston. It was then that she learned the doctor was deceased, and that he was known by police to have committed similar offences against other children.
‘That was a really, really positive thing for me ... I spoke to my sponsor from the fellowship at the time, and I said, “I'm not a kid making up crap. I'm not someone making up stories”.’
Louise shared her story not just for herself, but for those who couldn’t share their own. ‘A lot of people go to places of darkness. Some don't come back from them and some claw their way back. And I think part of it is I've been given the blessings of being here today. This is a gift.’