‘I was a victim of cruel and sadistic physical and sexual abuse while in state care … for all these years I’ve blamed myself for this, and thought I must have been intrinsically evil to have such horrors happen to me. This is a secret that I thought I would … take to my grave.’
In the 1960s Moya’s life had been erratic, playing parent to her multiple younger siblings after her mother deserted her violent, alcoholic lawyer husband and fled interstate with the children.
For a period they lived in hiding with nuns, but returned to reside with a grandmother, also an alcoholic, until Moya’s mother was hospitalised and her grandmother was injured in a drunken fall.
When ambulance personnel saw the children had no adult supervision, nine-year-old Moya was taken by police to state care – at a facility run with ‘military-style discipline’ by a cruel and abusive matron, where ‘extreme physical violence was a frequent event’.
Removed from her family, not knowing where she or her siblings were going, ‘it just made being wounded so much more intense. I felt absolutely alone and incredibly frightened. I protected myself by emotionally numbing myself’.
There was one younger and memorable staff member, who was ‘a kind person in a very dark place’, where even the playroom had wire on the windows and felt like a jail.
Bad things happened almost immediately. On her first night Moya was forced to bathe with a 13-year-old girl who ‘touched my vagina … spoke about how blood came out’. Feeling scared and alone, for years Moya thought she was the only one when, in fact, many younger children were sexually abused by older teenagers at the facility.
But it was being ‘cornered’ and then groomed by Colin, a care worker, who was able to isolate her in her bedroom at a busy time of day that ruined her life.
Colin brought some dinner to the dormitory where Moya was initially housed. She had been sent there without food after getting ‘into trouble for things that I didn’t understand’.
On the first occasion, he touched her breast as she grabbed her plate but she thought it was accidental. On the second occasion ‘he rubbed my back, and went far down my bottom and touched the back of my vagina’. When Moya told him to stop, Colin said: ‘Don’t worry, I ‘m just trying to make you feel better’.
‘I felt totally confused. I was absolutely petrified … I was intensely repulsed and felt paralysed. I was too scared to say anything. He had the power.’
On a third occasion, by now sharing a bedroom with a sleeping girl nearby, Moya threatened to scream if Colin touched her.
‘He grabbed the knife off the dinner tray, put it near my vagina and said, “Don’t you utter a sound or you’ll never go home … Next time I’ll use the sharp end and hurt you”.
‘The fourth time he came in, he did it again. I was absolutely shut down by this time. I felt like a statue lying there.’ As he molested her in various ways, Moya, who had never seen a penis, ‘felt like a dead fish … I didn’t understand what he was doing’.
A fifth occasion she described included various attempts at penetration which resulted in ‘so much pain’ and humiliation with ‘blood that was coming out’. She hid it with ‘tissues in my undies’.
Three more episodes of sexual abuse occurred with more pain and ‘a lot of bruising’.
Colin reinforced the feeling of being ‘trapped there forever’, telling Moya she would ‘never’ see her mother again. ‘That’s enough to shut any kid up.’
It also embedded in her a deep sense of shame and guilt that stopped her from speaking up – even to the kind carer. When reunited with her family months later, Moya wouldn’t have known how to describe Colin’s masturbation or other abuse.
‘I was nine. I didn’t even know what sex was.’
With her strict Catholic background, ‘I just stuffed it down as deep as I could’, Moya said of her decades of silence.
‘I was lucky I was only in there for four months. Some kids were in there for years’, Moya told the Commissioner.
Still, it took more than 40 years of struggling, ‘keeping that numb child numbed’ with alcohol, intense periods of anger, post-traumatic stress, low self-esteem and three suicide attempts for Moya to disclose her abuse.
Moya ‘sabotaged a lot of things in my life’, tried to be ‘the biggest people pleaser on two feet’, and married the wrong person.
She ‘had a big, big relationship’ with Alcoholics Anonymous for decades. ‘Addiction runs through my whole family’ which she described as ‘very, very dysfunctional’.
After a psychotic episode several years earlier which ‘so shattered’ a close relative, Moya was ‘determined to get well and get rid of my secrets’.
Her immediate family, psychological counselling support, a very good friend and ‘a peaceful home’ all ‘make a huge difference’. She is no longer ‘dissociating’ between the ‘person that has this secret and another person out in the real world. I feel like I am becoming reintegrated’.
Not quite able to make a police report yet, Moya has been told ‘that other people have been abused’ by Colin, whose ‘smell [and] what his penis looks like’ have remained with her for almost half a century.
With psychological help it has ‘taken a lot of hard work to get this out and it’s only the last week that we’ve got to the root of it’.
Moya was encouraged to tell her story to the Commission, knowing ‘that if there is a light shone on this sort of behavior then it doesn’t happen to other people, other little people who are just struggling in this world to get by’.
‘I don’t want to just survive. I want to live. I want to be happy … to not carry this deep sense of shame and guilt anymore. I’m just so over it.’
‘Nothing comes close to the trauma that I experienced in [the facility] … We would have been better off being at home. Much better off.’
Moya was ‘really glad’ the Commission has enabled so many child sexual abuse survivors ‘to be able to stand up and tell the things that were wrong … wrong in every respect’.