Within months of Merve’s birth in the mid-1950s, her father passed away, so she was raised by her grandparents in a rural town in northern New South Wales where her mother would often come and visit her.
One night, when she was almost a teenager, Merve was taken from her grandparents’ house and left overnight in the local jail before being sent to a girls’ home in western Sydney. Prior to this, she had spent some time in two other homes, and thinks that her habit of truanting and getting into trouble may have been the reason behind these placements.
At the girls’ home, instead of receiving an education, Merve was made to scrub concrete floors with a toothbrush and work long hours in the laundry. If she took a break from working the hot and humid laundry presses, which made her dizzy, she was punished.
Merve was also watched by male staff members in the showers, and subjected to regular humiliating strip searches by male and female staff members who checked the girls for concealed contraband.
On one occasion, the superintendent, Doug Williams, made Merve scrub a pavement for three days straight. Sick of doing the same chore, Merve angered Williams by refusing to go and join the other girls. He grabbed her by the hair, dragged her to his office and bashed her repeatedly. He then dragged her to ‘the dungeon’. ‘I was there for about a week’, Merve said. ‘That’s when he molested me.’
During her three years at the home, Merve was sexually assaulted by Williams at least four other times after she had been placed into isolation in the dungeon. When she reported the abuse to another staff member, she was ignored. When she learned from her peers that she was not the only victim of Williams, she stopped trying to complain. ‘I thought that was the punishment you get’, she said.
In the early 1970s, Merve left the home and told her grandmother about the abuse she had endured. Nothing more was done, and Merve felt ‘too ashamed’ to ever tell anyone else about the abuse.
In the years that followed, Merve had a difficult time finding work. She married twice, and had children, but her issues with trust and intimacy have had a negative impact upon her relationships.
Merve has also experienced depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, and still has nightmares from which she wakes up screaming.
Merve never sought counselling, and never reported the abuse to the police because she thought she would not be believed, or that her case ‘would not matter’. However, after speaking to the Royal Commission, Merve now intends to report the incidents and the girls’ home to the police.