‘You trust these people, these adults and you look up to them like a father figure and you take their word for it … Because we didn’t know back then what’s right and what’s wrong. I felt inside it was wrong but I still didn’t understand what’s going on, why it happened.’
Mamie was born in the early 1960s as a result of her mother being sexually assaulted by her own father. Her mother was forced to give her up and Mamie was made a ward of the state. She told the Commissioner she was fostered out for a while, ‘but they didn’t want me’.
When she was five, she was sent to a home in regional Victoria for children with an intellectual disability. Mamie described the home as a very unhappy place to grow up, with frequent physical and emotional abuse.
‘I was treated like a number … We were nothing to them. They were there just for their pay, that’s what I felt as a child.’
She said staff members pulled the girls by their hair, and if children wet the bed they were made to sleep in the wet sheets. There was schooling, but it was minimal at best.
No social worker or inspector ever came to check on her. Her mother thought she had been adopted and didn’t know where she was, so there were no family visits either.
When she was 16 she left the dormitories and was allowed her own room, in a hostel in the grounds of the home. There was minimal staff supervision, as the idea was for the residents to try and become more independent.
Mamie said that’s when a male nurse who worked at the home started to abuse her.
‘He worked over in the boys’ area. The boys used to come over because we had a tennis court in the back of our hostel and they used to come over and play tennis. He’d come over too.’
The nurse managed to get her away from others and into isolated areas.
‘It just happened. I can’t explain it. It’s like get upstairs, close the doors. He never done it in my room but in the bathroom or something like that. He’d sexually abuse me when the others would be busy playing tennis or doing something else.’
She said the abuse went on for a couple of years, but then the nurse was caught abusing someone else and was fired. That was when Mamie tried to report her abuse to a staff member.
‘You know how gossip starts going around and I said, “Can I say something?” And she said “No, ’cause he’s got caught you don’t have to say anything” … So I didn’t.’
She said she was happy the nurse had been caught, but the staff never gave her an opportunity to talk to the police about what he did to her and the police didn’t end up laying charges. She said she saw other incidents of abuse happening at the home, by other staff members on children.
‘He stuffed my life up … I just don’t want anybody else, another child, to go through what I been through.’
After she left the home, Mamie lived in a series of hostels and share houses. She said the abuse she suffered made her lose trust in people, especially men.
‘It’s taken me a lifetime to trust. When people tell me what to do, I wasn’t too sure if they’re telling me the truth or they’re pulling my leg.’
She had a series of failed relationships when she was younger but has been with her husband for 26 years now and finds him a great support. Despite this, she said it has taken her years to learn how to show affection.
In the early 2000s, Mamie’s brother-in-law suggested she engage a lawyer to seek redress for what happened. That was the first time she told anyone the full details of her story. It took a few years but she eventually received $60,000 in compensation, of which the lawyers took $20,000.
When asked how she felt about the redress process, she told the Commissioner: ‘Money-wise, crap. But I felt good. I’ve done it. I got a bit off my chest’.
A significant and lasting impact on Mamie has been her lack of education, which has had an ongoing effect on her ability to find employment. But she has a positive outlook and continues to seek out training opportunities and apply for jobs.
‘I don’t smoke and I don’t drink – occasionally I have a drink – but I don’t come as an alcoholic or take drugs or anything like that.’
She said some days she doesn’t know how she has managed to stay strong, but she has.
‘I’ve got good family. Good kids … I just take it day by day.’