‘I want to be heard in relation to the sexual abuse I experienced after being taken away from my family. Removing me was meant to stop the sexual abuse.’
The day after Madge turned 14, she gave birth to her father’s child.
Madge was born in the late 1940s, into a large family living on a sheep property in rural New South Wales. She was around four the first time her father sexually abused her, when her mum was in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia.
The abuse continued for many years. Eventually he started raping her, and she conceived her daughter to him. She disclosed the abuse, and her pregnancy, to her grandmother under fear of her life.
‘He said, "If you tell anybody, I will kill you". And he had a shotgun. So I said, "Okay, you’ve virtually taken everything, so go ahead and do it". Anyway, he didn’t.’
Her grandmother did not believe her at first, but the schoolteacher she next told did. He spoke with her grandmother, and they contacted police.
Madge had also been sexually abused by her brothers, but decided not to disclose this at the time out of concern it would affect the case against her father. He had committed most of the abuse against her, and was certainly responsible for her pregnancy.
He was found guilty of sexually abusing her, and sentenced to four years hard labour. ‘Eighteen months later he was given amnesty for good behaviour.’
Madge spent her pregnancy at an Anglican women’s hostel in Sydney. ‘I was treated like I was a criminal or a terrible person by the nursing staff for having a baby so young. I do not know what information they had in their files that led them to treat me in such a terrible manner.’
She was not provided with counselling, and decided her child would be placed for adoption. It didn’t seem feasible she would be able to care for a baby, and wasn’t sure she wanted to. ‘At that time, that baby was my father’s seed, and I was repulsed by it.’
When her daughter was born, staff at the hostel named her. ‘I was not allowed to see her. I think seeing her would have helped me, as for years I imagined her to look like a monster.’ Her child passed away a few months later, and was buried in an unmarked communal grave.
Madge didn’t want to go back to her home town, given the gossip at school, and agreed to be placed in care. She was fostered by Janet and Ian Muller, in Sydney’s upper north shore. This seems to have been an informal arrangement made through their connection with the Anglican Church, as there is no record of her being made a ward of the state.
Following the death of her baby, she became very ill. The strong medication she was prescribed gave her hallucinations. Janet and Ian would sit with her at night to soothe her. Ian began sexually abusing her at this time, fondling her when they were alone.
He would also ‘pick me up from the bus stop in his car, and then grope and fondle me on the way home’. Madge tried catching different buses to avoid him.
A woman used to come and visit the family, to check on the placement. Madge doesn’t know where she was from, and barely spoke to her. ‘I did not have any contact details for the child welfare workers, nor was I given any opportunity to contact them had I wanted to.’
When Janet was away visiting family for a few weeks, Ian started raping Madge, doing so repeatedly during this time. Madge didn’t feel she could tell Janet afterwards.
‘I was very frightened of breaking up another family, as I had always blamed myself for breaking up my birth family after telling what my father had done.’
Madge was also sexually assaulted by Ian’s friend Eddy. ‘He grabbed me and kissed me. He groped me and took his penis out of his pants. He tried to rape me but I got away.’
She told Ian, and he yelled at Eddy. However, Eddy came back the next day and the two men remained friends.
The abuse by Ian stopped only when Madge left home at 17. She studied nursing and travelled all around the world working.
It was the early 1990s before Madge first disclosed the abuse by her brothers, Ian and Eddy, to a counsellor she was seeing for other issues. She knows that one of her brothers continued to offend, and her father also abused one of her sisters.
Everyday issues are hard for Madge to handle, and she experiences severe mood swings and periods of intense anger. She has had issues with intimacy, and has never had a partner. With little trust in anyone, forming attachments and relationships with others is difficult ‘which contributes to my low sense of self-esteem and self-worth’. She still has flashbacks to the abuse, and has struggled with alcohol and other drug use.
Madge made a number of recommendations to protect children from sexual abuse. These included measures for educating welfare workers, educators, church members and foster carers, as well as the wider community. ‘Child sexual assault education should become a mandatory part of marriage counselling and pre-natal care for all parents.’
Madge recently made an anonymous police report about Ian, who is now in his 80s, and is considering providing a formal statement. A support organisation has assisted with this process, and also provided counselling. Now she feels, ‘I am important enough to have a voice. If all of us survivors put our voices together we could be very powerful’.