‘All of the staff that crashed through the boundaries had children of their own … I don’t know how they thought that what they were doing was okay … They thought they wouldn’t get caught … It went too far and they just couldn’t stop themselves.’
In the 1980s, in her mid-teens, Missy was admitted to a government-run adolescent hospital in Western Australia. Her truanting had made it difficult for her to slot back into school, and she was too young to legally leave, so living at the hospital looked like her ‘best and ultimately only option’.
After her single mother had dropped off her ‘precious though by now uncommunicative bundle’, Missy underwent an assessment which noted that she was uncomfortable around men. ‘It was somehow decided that it would be appropriate for certain male staff members to give me a hug when they came on shift', she said. ‘It‘s fair to say I resisted this.’
Missy said that Dr Chris, a psychiatrist, ‘would pin me into a corner in the music room where I was sometimes found playing records after school, and rub up against me. He did this three or four times until I told him to stay the fuck away from me’. However, Freddy Hardy, a ‘nondescript-looking’ married nurse, ‘didn’t do the hug thing. Not yet anyway. He was entirely non-threatening’.
Missy and Freddy ‘hit it off immediately’. They talked a lot, and ‘started walking around the grounds at night, arm in arm, or holding hands’. Cringing, she remembered a night in the back of a minibus.
‘I ended up lying with my head on his lap while he stroked my face and hair … Stupid, stupid girl.’
After Missy’s discharge a year later, she returned for weekly ‘follow up’ sessions with Freddy. ‘My memory is that we spent most of those sessions lying on the bed with our arms around each other … In some ways, I admire his self-restraint. I’m aware he had his hands buried deeply in his trouser pockets every time we exited the room or spent any time together.’ Missy said of herself and the other inpatients that ‘we really didn’t know what constituted treatment’.
For the next few months, Missy and Freddy exchanged letters. He called her from a phone box near his home, sent her ‘suggestive’ books such as Sons and Lovers, and gave her a note saying that he wanted to share the ‘miracle’ of his baby’s birth with her. ‘It says a lot about how screwed up the relationship was that I felt a bit betrayed that he’d obviously slept with his wife.’ Missy also went to the cinema with Freddy and her inpatient friends. ‘Freddy and I held hands all the way through it … which was something we’d done before’, she said.
Freddy sexually abused Missy during a weekly follow-up session. ‘We were lying on the bed as usual with our arms around each other. But this time, he put one hand into my tights and knickers, and put two fingers into me. I had my eyes shut and I think I froze and pretty much stopped breathing as he did this.’ Interrupted by a knock at the door, Freddy kissed her for the first time, and Missy went home. ‘I didn’t know what to think about this. I don’t think I thought about it at all.’
The after-effects of the abuse, and some time overseas, ‘allowed the spell to be broken’. Missy began grinding her teeth, and developed lockjaw which prompted a dentist to ask if she had had a fall or a blow to the head. She ‘stuffed up school’ with her sporadic attendance, tried cutting herself, and is ‘forever grateful’ to a friend who pulled her off a bus after she discovered her suicide note.
About a year later, after showing Freddy her cutting scar, he took her into a room and punched her.
‘Every time I tried to say something, he’d punch me again in the same spot. I counted 40 punches. For a long time, I didn’t understand why he acted that way. It seems obvious now that he was worried that I would tell someone what he’d done.’
Missy’s love of music was the only thing that got her through this painful period.
Over the next 10 years, similar ‘boundary violations’ experienced by other inpatients were revealed to Missy, or made public during inquiries and a court case: Ninette, who had been ‘targeted’ by ‘touchy’ Dr Chris, killed herself around 1990; Amanda took Dr Chris to court in the 1990s, and he was convicted of ‘indecent dealings’; Patrick’s ‘fostering relationship’ with a female staff member turned out to be sexual and possessive.
When Missy was interviewed for a parliamentary inquiry, she disclosed everything she knew about Ninette, Patrick and Amanda. ‘Unfortunately and stupidly, I still felt some level of loyalty to Freddy’, Missy said. ‘Some sense that I should protect him, and that he wasn’t really one of the bad guys.’ She therefore told the inquiry that nothing ‘untoward’ had happened between them. She declined to testify when Amanda took Dr Chris to court, and will not report Freddy to the police while her mother is still alive.
Missy has lived with depression and anxiety, and feels that, developmentally, a part of her got stuck in her mid-teens. She lacks agency, expects others to look after her, and distrusts people in authority. The grooming and abuse has also made sex ‘quite complicated,’ she said. ‘Not always, but more often than not. It feels like it’s something done to me, rather than with me. That I’m not really an active participant.’
Missy regrets that she didn’t fully disclose during the inquiry, and still has difficulty accepting that Freddy’s behaviour was a crime because ‘that then makes me feel like I’m a victim … but I was special, surely’.