When Marisa’s five-year-old son, Lucas, kept making reference to ‘Mister Dingle’, she asked him what he meant. She was shocked when he pointed to his anus and told her Mister Rob at day care had touched his ‘Mister Dingle’.
The morning after Lucas’s disclosure, Marisa went to the centre manager and recounted the conversation she’d had with her son about the worker, Rob Essey. ‘Her immediate response was, “Don’t say anything like that, you could jeopardise his career. He loves this job”.’
The manager then found Lucas and chastised him in front of Marisa for ‘making up stories’. ‘I was in absolute shock’, Marisa said. ‘Lucas started to get teary and looked up at me and I was shocked. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t comfort him, I couldn’t move from the spot I was in. I was just disgusted and a whole heap of other things.’
That night Marisa felt furious and the following day went back to the centre and confronted Essey directly. ‘He said, “Oh no, it’s probably the other kids saying that. I wouldn’t say that, I love my job. I’m working in this job because my wife and I can’t have children”. And he walked away. That was it.’
Marisa told the Commissioner that she let the matter ‘fizzle out’ because Lucas seemed okay and he’d moved out of the room overseen by Essey. In the mid 2010s, Lucas started school and one day, after a session about protective behaviours, came home and asked his mother why Mister Rob had been allowed to touch his ‘bum hole’. Seeking advice on what to do, Marisa contacted staff of a community organisation specialising in child sexual assault who encouraged her to report the matter to Queensland Police.
She did this, and a short time later Lucas was interviewed by a detective from the child sex crimes unit. After the interview, the detective reported to Marisa that she’d been unable to glean any information from Lucas and advised that as it was now more than six months after the initial disclosure and there was nothing substantive to act on, police wouldn’t be able to take further action. ‘I wasn’t happy with that’, Marisa said. ‘I felt he did have something to say and I don’t think she was the right person to actually conduct that interview.’
The detective did however contact government education staff to verify that the centre complied with legal requirements for staff working with children. Not long after, Marisa was contacted by an employee of the Department of Education who requested an interview and indicated that a further allegation of abuse by Rob Essey had been received. The matter was re-referred to police and, as far as Marisa knew at the time of speaking to the Royal Commission, investigations were continuing.
Marisa said that her initial feelings of shock when Lucas disclosed the abuse stemmed in part from memories of her own abuse as a child. She’d grown up in a violent household and was physically abused by her mother and sexually abused by a brother and two sisters. From a young age, she’d started running away because ‘it was safer outside the home’.
In the mid-1980s and aged 13, Marisa was made a ward of the Queensland state. She was placed with a foster family and on the first night in their home, awoke to find the male foster carer with his hands down her underwear. ‘I took off from there the next day’, Marisa said.
Sent to another foster home family, she was again abused, this time by the father who came up behind her and began rubbing his erect penis against her. She said she pushed him out of the way and became angry. ‘And he basically told me, “Get out and don’t come back. Get out and don’t come back. Don’t come back here”. So I was out.’
Marisa said that, from there, she lived on the streets for a while until she was picked up by police and sentenced by a magistrate to nine months in a girls’ detention centre. While waiting for transfer she and a friend were locked overnight in a police cell. The officer on duty gave the 14-year-olds alcoholic apple cider and cigarettes and then separated the girls, sexually assaulting Marisa’s friend in one of the cells.
The doctor in the detention centre was known as ‘Mister Perve’. He rotated girls through his clinic and digitally raped each of them under the pretext of a gynaecological examination. ‘He was just a filthy old man’, Marisa said. ‘He’d never use gloves and he’d, like, put his fingers inside of you and, “Do you enjoy that? Is that the spot? Does that hurt?” and it was disgusting but it was part of being locked up and because so many adults and people had abused me in the past, I just took it on the chin.”
Released from detention at 15, Marisa said she ‘went straight as far as crime was concerned’ but ‘embarked on a long career of drinking’. In the intervening decades, she’d been homeless for long periods, had self-harmed by cutting herself, had attempted suicide, and been in and out of alcohol rehabilitation centres.
Lucas’s birth was a turning point. ‘So he was a lifesaver. I had to change my thinking and the way I was living because I had a little man to care for, you know, I had someone to care for now. So I’ve just embarked on this big journey of healing and I’m at this new stage of beginning the rest of my life, so it’s been very hard, but you know I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff. I’ve put it where it belongs and I’ve just come through. This is what I was saying about sitting with you today, it’s sort of like the final piece … I just live in the here and now and yes, I’ve come through.
‘I think just having an understanding of how I think and where everything sits and I had to forgive myself because I’ve got to, you know, it’s only this year that I’ve actually begun liking myself. I had to do that for me but I had to do that for Lucas too.’