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Marian Sylvia's story

Four-year-old Marian and her two siblings were only supposed to be in care for a few months in the late 1960s, but the official who made the order mistakenly made them state wards.

Most of their older siblings had been placed in care at some point too – ‘there’s some debate about why that was’. Her father was a war veteran who ‘had issues with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism and things like that, which nobody actually recognised ... They just said he was difficult’.

Her first foster placement was good, and the family wanted to move interstate with her but this did not happen. She was then sent to live with the McMahon family. Mrs McMahon was a nasty woman, who gave Marian a black eye one day.

As a result Marian was placed back with her biological family when she was nine, but she remained a state ward for the next four years. She felt very unsettled by this change, and wished she could have stayed with the McMahons despite her issues with her foster mother. ‘The welfare had gone from “Okay you’re never going to be able to see your parents again until you’re 18”, to all of a sudden, “You’re going home”.’

It was strange being returned to her family, including other siblings who had come back from care too, as she didn’t really know them. ‘I don’t think Mum and Dad really knew what to do. They suddenly had these kids that they really didn’t know anything about. All they knew was that they were their kids.’

At first, Marian’s 18-year-old brother Elliot (who had never been in care) ‘sort of made out he was a friend’. Instead of providing support however, he began sexually abusing her in increasingly violent and sadistic ways. He subjected her to frequent rapes and beatings, and once stuck pins into her vagina.

Even though the department suspected she was in danger, and ‘I was one of the very first kids to have an actual social worker as a welfare officer’, they failed to protect her or ask adequate questions about what was happening in the home.

‘They never spoke to me by myself ... There had been an accusation with my other sister, which the welfare had documented, which Mum was aware of. And the welfare actually did tell Mum that Elliot cannot be there if you’re going to have these girls home.’ It seems that welfare never checked whether Elliot was living there, despite this condition.

Marian told the Commissioner that she obtained her welfare files because she could not remember much about her childhood. Curiously, even though her wardship ended when she was in her early teens, the last entry in her records was from 10 years later. ‘I didn’t know half of what I’ve told you until I got a copy of my file. I didn’t know that they knew I was being abused. And when I actually saw it written there I thought well, this is a bit odd ... Because my file is a very honest account of what happened.’

The physical and sexual abuse by Elliot continued for many years. Her father confronted Elliot and there was a violent altercation, shortly after which her father died.

Because of the abuse Marian’s education effectively stopped in early high school. ‘You couldn’t actually go to school, ‘cause kids always know when there is something amiss with other kids. So you get picked on and it really become impossible to go to school.’

Her mother allowed Elliot to move out of home with Marian when she was 16, and they relocated to an area far away from the family. He continued to abuse her.

In her early 20s, Marian met her first husband, Jim. ‘He sort of twigged straight away what was going on. And he actually threatened him [Elliot] and said, you know, “if you do any of this again I will kill you”.’

While they were engaged, Jim went away for a while, and Elliot further abused her for a few more years. The abuse finally stopped after she married Jim, and one of her brothers assisted her to escape from Elliot. ‘I was lucky enough to find someone who would support me.’

After she had kids she ceased most contact with her family. ‘My family have no concept of what is reasonable behaviour ... I think that is what is so disgusting about it ... They have no conception that that was not my fault. That you can’t say just because this happened that a nine-year-old possibly had any control over what was going on.’

When Marian was in her 30s she reported the abuse to police. ‘The police interviewed him. He denied it.’ The matter did not proceed, and Elliot is now deceased.

She has since received the maximum victims of crime compensation and an apology from the state government. ‘The court recognised that it had happened, absolutely.’

Marian is currently on antidepressants prescribed by her GP. ‘You get to a point where you think “Oh yeah, you know, everything’s okay ... I’m over that”. And when you actually start to think about you think well, that’s not the case.’

Despite her experiences, Marian has always maintained a sense of hope for the future. ‘From when I was very young, being able to question that this can’t be all there is to it. That this can’t be it. Sometimes I look back and I don’t know how I’m alive.’

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