Milly's story

Milly was put into state care at age three in the 1950s. She was sexually abused by the Sisters of St Joseph nuns at several Sydney residential care facilities where she spent large periods of her childhood.

At all of the institutions, she suffered greatly from physical and emotional abuse too. Her ‘cruel, abusive and violent’ father also sexually abused her. Born into a Catholic family of six children, Milly was one of the four placed into state care as their mother was repeatedly hospitalised for schizophrenia.

Milly feels she has ‘blocked out some memories because of the trauma’ and although she tried to speak to several psychologists, it caused her ‘huge stress and anxiety’.

Being in ‘care’ was the wrong word for Milly’s childhood experiences of cruelty, loneliness and deliberate separation from Marge, her sister, the only source of comfort and support in the facilities to which she was sent.

‘I had experienced neglect and abuse from my parents already, as most children there had, and all I needed was love and comfort.’ Instead, the nuns used violence to ‘dominate and control us as children’.

In Year 3 she was ‘whipped’ with a cane, after being forced to bend over the desk in front of the entire class exposing her underwear, an act she considered was ‘a sexual assault’.

‘I have a memory of my vagina being very sore and complained to the nuns about this and was told that I was a “dirty little girl” and made to feel embarrassed and ashamed.

‘I can’t even think about this now without feeling sick and wanting to dry retch. This is all very, very difficult for me to talk about. Just talking about it now makes me feel physically sick, ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated all over again even though it was a long time ago.’

Milly also underwent numerous humiliations after wetting herself, both in class when not allowed to go to the toilet, and at night in bed.

She recalled being forced to attend morning prayers in wet pyjamas. She also has memories of kneeling in front of statues in ‘urine-soaked pyjamas’ before all the other children and nuns which was ‘extremely shameful for me and caused me great embarrassment’.

Sometimes, Milly was forced to toilet before bed ‘in front of other children’ with the cubicle door left open and her genital area on display.

Milly’s childhood experiences affected her psychologically and physically. She has difficulty forming and maintaining close relationships. With trust issues and insecurities, she was also overprotective of her children and knows this affected their lives as well. She’s had a lifelong mistrust of adults.

Because Marge, Milly’s ‘best friend’, experienced much the same childhood as her own, Milly finds it difficult to separate their experiences.

‘I feel her pain as my pain as well’, she said in documents provided to the Royal Commission. She also feels guilt that she left home and was not there to stop her father sexually abusing her sister.

When she separated from her husband, the trauma brought back memories of being tongue-kissed by her father. Milly disclosed then to her mother who told her he was ‘a sick man’.

Now a grandmother, Milly has never reported anything to police or to the institution or the Catholic Church which ran it, which ‘did me a lot of damage’. At the time there was no one to whom she felt should could speak, or who she felt was an actual ‘carer’.

Milly read out a letter to herself which said in part: ‘Delving into the past is so painful. This feeling of humiliation, so unloved, despair, a feeling of not belonging sits in my soul. In my gut lies anger, mistrust. What has happened to me at such a young age? I grieve for that little girl who was sensitive and loving. I tell her I’m sorry it happened. But these are words.

‘My spirit is broken. She is little and lost and lives in fear. She has no trust in adults. She has no home. No comfort place … She finishes thinking, “If only I was good, someone would love me.” So she tries harder. And if she’s quiet and good they will keep her. They won’t send her away any more. She’ll be good but over and over she is torn … This child is me. I know today as an adult that everything negative you say to a child it takes 10 positives to repair.’

Milly is hurt and angered by the fact that most states apart from New South Wales and Victoria have redress schemes through which victims can claim compensation. ‘Weren’t we good enough?’

Milly came forward to leave a legacy for her children and grandchildren. Child abuse is ‘never, ever’ okay, she said. Had she not approached the Royal Commission, she feels that it would have been condoning the abuse.

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