In the late 1970s Marina gave birth to her daughter, Tammy. Due to complications with the delivery Tammy was left with an intellectual disability, epilepsy and aspects of autism.
As a small child, Tammy was ‘very difficult’, Marina said. She was hyperactive, and missed the milestones reached by other children.
At primary school, Tammy’s disability was initially diagnosed as mild. Later, it was re-categorised as a moderate disability. This meant Tammy couldn’t stay at the school as it wasn’t equipped to manage her needs.
When Marina and her husband separated, Marina had to take on full time work. Tammy was offered a place in a Catholic-run school for children with intellectual disabilities in outer Sydney. She would board at the school from Monday to Friday and be under the care of house parents.
Marina had no choice. ‘I didn’t want to, but I accepted it’, she said.
Tammy was 13 when she took up her place at the school. Residents lived in small cottages. In Tammy’s there were three boys and the carer, Clive Barrow. At first, Marina was concerned that there was only a male carer, and no woman. She raised her concerns with staff, and was assured Barrow had passed all the necessary checks.
‘I was very worried about a male being in charge’, she told the Commissioner. ‘I discussed it and they said no, he’s fine.’
Every Friday Marina collected Tammy to take her home for the weekend. Early on she noticed that Tammy was always very tired. ‘She’d sleep all the way home, she was lethargic all weekend’, Marina said. ‘I’d just think school’s overtaxing her.’
One Friday Marina picked up Tammy as usual. They were going on to a birthday party. On the way, Tammy asked to go to the toilet. She said she couldn’t wait. So Marina stopped outside a hotel and took Tammy inside to the toilet. It was an older style toilet with a pull-chain to flush it. Tammy didn’t know how to pull the chain so Marina reached over to do it for her.
‘That’s what saved her’, Marina said.
As she leant over the toilet she saw to her shock that it was full of blood. ‘I absolutely panicked’, she said.
A fast drive to hospital followed and soon afterwards Tammy was taken into theatre. At this point, Marina believed the haemorrhage was probably due to Tammy’s medications. But then she had a sudden realisation.
‘For some reason my stomach turned … I just twigged.’
When Marina met with the surgeon she asked if Tammy had been sexually assaulted. He said yes. ‘He said “She’s been raped anally and it’s burst the bowel”.’
The principal of the school sent Tammy a bouquet of flowers but that was the extent of the pastoral care. ‘From that day forward, she never contacted me or said anything to me again, ever’, Marina said. Marina and Tammy received no apology, no offer of support or counselling, and no information about how to make a complaint or seek compensation.
Clive Barrow was quietly asked to resign his post and he did so. Marina had immediately reported the assault to the police but Barrow, who was English, left Australia before he could be questioned.
The parents of the other boys in the cottage weren’t told what had happened, though Marina is sure Barrow abused them too. ‘Those parents to this day probably don’t even know their boys were sexually assaulted’, she said.
Other parts of the system let Marina and Tammy down as well. They were visited at home by an officer – Marina wasn’t sure exactly what agency she represented - who interviewed Tammy alone.
‘I heard her asking Tammy about something and Tammy answered “Pins! Needles! Scissors! Glass!” I walked in and I said “Have you got qualifications in handling an interview with a handicapped person? … Can’t you understand what she’s trying to tell you?”’
Tammy wasn’t able to explain what had happened to her. But Marina knew what she was saying. ‘Those words are indicating it was sharp and it hurt’, she told the officer.
A visit to the rape crisis centre involved a wait of over three hours and a suggestion that samples be taken from Tammy, even though she’d had surgery since the assault. Eventually Marina couldn’t manage Tammy’s behaviour any longer, and they left. The centre said it would get in touch with her, but it didn’t.
Some years later Marina called a hotline set up by a commission of inquiry, to report Barrow’s abuse. Her information seemed to be taken seriously, and she was told someone would contact her to follow it up. That didn’t happen either.
Even if Barrow had been prosecuted, securing a conviction would have been difficult. After another incident of abuse later in Tammy’s life she was assessed as an incompetent witness, so although police agreed there was a case to answer, charges couldn’t be pursued.
‘Getting a matter to court where a child is disabled is very, very difficult’, Marina observed.
‘I reckon unless you’re absolutely squeaky clean you shouldn’t be working with geriatric patients or people with disabilities, because they’re totally vulnerable’, she said. ‘And these men, these people, they go there because they’re in a safe environment. They know even if the victim blows the whistle they’re not going to get convicted.’