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Netta's story

In the 1950s, when Netta was about nine, she and her siblings were made wards of the Queensland state. The boys and girls were sent to different institutions, with the sisters being placed in a Salvation Army girls’ home hundreds of kilometres away from home.

In the three years that Netta was in the home, she was severely abused by one of the female officers, Captain Pitman. Pitman would lock Netta in a broom closet for hours or overnight. The closet was small, and Netta had to crouch in a corner surrounded by spiders and insects. ‘To this day I am scared of the dark and I have to sleep with the light on.’

At other times, Netta said, Pitman would send her to a storage attic as punishment and ‘put tape over my mouth and tie my hands behind my back so she could freely touch my breasts and put her finger up my bum’. Netta said this happened so often that she ‘just accepted it’.

‘She used to say to me, “Nobody’ll believe you”. She used to say that, and sorts of things like: “If you do open your mouth and say anything, next time you’re up here, it’ll be worse, twice as bad”. You just zip your mouth, don’t say anything and put up with it.’

After several years, Netta was moved without explanation to a more secure girls’ facility. She was a very young resident, but like all new arrivals, she was forced to spend a fortnight in a solitary confinement cell.

‘I’ve been back to find out what I did that was so bad to put me in there and take me away from the rest of my family, but there’s nothing’, Netta said. ‘There’s nothing up there that can tell me why, but I honestly believe that Captain Pitman had been transferred and she wasn’t going anywhere without me, and after I’d done my 14 days in the solitary, she was the one that opened the door, and she said, “Thought you’d get away from me, didn’t you?”’

Netta wasn’t sexually abused in the second facility, but she continued to receive severe physical punishments, but no education.

During this time, Netta’s father died, and she was given permission to travel alone to her mother’s house to attend the funeral.

‘I didn’t know anybody. I hadn’t seen my mother for years anyway. I didn’t know my older brothers. I’d never met my younger sister who was born after I was put in there, so I didn’t know anybody. And they were all drinking and I was sitting there and the door was open … I realised this is the first time in my life I’ve been free to walk out that door and nobody’s going to stop me, so I did.’

Netta walked down the main street of the town, but was picked up by a carload of men, taken to a remote property, and gang-raped.

‘I don’t remember a lot of it, but I do remember the first few and like, I was a virgin then too so they took my virginity away and that part is really the hard part for me now because when Captain Pitman was playing with me, she used to say that sex with a man was a dirty, dirty thing. You don’t do it. That went in; it stuck in there and then when these guys did it to me, I believed her then. Sex with a man is a dirty, dirty thing you know. And I still hate sex. I’ve never enjoyed sex. Nobody’s ever seen me naked, and that’s still with me today.’

When Netta regained consciousness after the assaults, she made her way back to her mother’s place naked, bleeding and crying. She had been reported missing, so a police officer was waiting at home with her family. Netta told them about being raped, but nobody helped her or offered comfort. Netta said that her sister-in-law ‘belted the crap out of me for putting my mother through this’.

Netta also said that the police officer told her that he couldn’t do anything because she was a ward of the state. He took no statement, and made no report about the rapes. Instead, he locked her in a cell overnight, and then escorted her back to the facility where she was put in solitary confinement for two weeks.

When Netta left the facility in her mid-teens, she went to her mother’s place, but wasn’t welcome. She ended up living on the streets of Brisbane, and in her search for food and shelter, was ‘used’ by various men. Sometimes she went to motels with ‘men in suits’. She’d wait till they were naked, then take the money out of their wallets and run out the door. ‘They’re not going to chase me out of the room. They’re naked and they’re probably married, and what are they doing in there with a 15, 16-year-old girl anyway? I lived high on those people.’

Netta never reported the sexual abuse by Pitman, or the gang-rape, to the police. ‘I left it too long. I buried it. The state should have done something about it.’

Netta later married a man she did not love. ‘I didn’t love him because I did not know what love was. He offered me a roof over my head in a house … and I thought, “Go for it girl”, so I did. He took me off the streets.’

For many years, Netta worked in aged care, a job she loved. However, her children have had troubled lives because Netta didn’t know how to ‘break the cycle’ of abuse and trauma.

Netta received a compensation payment during the Forde Inquiry, but didn’t disclose the truth about what had happened to her as a child. It was only after speaking to a counsellor that she came to think of Pitman’s behaviour as sexual abuse. ‘I just thought it was she was touching me. It was just one of those things that happened.’

Netta hoped that by telling her story she had been able to ‘get it off my chest’. She also hoped ‘to God it is still not happening, and that it never happens to anybody else’.

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