‘I was brutally, brutally dealt with in [the girls’ home]. I don’t think any child, whether good, bad or indifferent, should ever have to go through that. I feel ashamed, you know. I shouldn’t feel the way I do, because … I know now it wasn’t my fault, but I’ve lived my life believing it was.’
As a child, Noula kept running away from home. ‘My mother, for me, was abusive and when I used to go to school, and I saw my peers dropped off by their parents, there was always a hug, a kiss goodbye … and that’s what I was looking for … I didn’t find it at home.’
Noula was eventually made a ward of the state in New South Wales and, in the early 1970s at the age of 15, she was sentenced to six to nine months in a girls’ home.
In the home Noula was brutally sexually assaulted by one of the officers, Paul Ellis. The abuse took place most often in an isolation cell. Ellis forced Noula to perform oral sex on him numerous times. He also penetrated her vagina and anus, leaving her bloodied and, on one occasion, unconscious.
Noula reported the first incident of abuse to the officer in charge of the home and told him, ‘“He pissed all over me and he put his private bits in my mouth … You’ve got to do something about it” and he slapped me on the face. He told me to be more respectful when I spoke about the officers’. After she reported Ellis, he attacked her in the showers in retaliation.
Noula believes that ‘those men groomed a lot of girls … During one of my assaults, I passed out. I was left in the [cell] with my clothes in tatters, blood all over me, and yet, I found myself in the dormitory, fully cleansed, fully clothed. I can’t see the men doing that. So there was help there …’ Noula believes that some of the older girls helped the abusive officers.
‘Unfortunately, for those girls … they were really vulnerable … You either help or you become another victim. So there’s many different ways that they committed these crimes … I don’t know … Is grooming a crime? … a form of brainwashing?’
Noula said, ‘I have struggled through my life. I have been very dysfunctional, made a lot of bad choices, bad decisions, because basically I was stuck in a place of fear and mistrust … I tried to commit suicide a couple of times. I’ve been on anti-depressant … anti-psychotic medications … I’m trying really, really hard to gain control back of my life …
‘I feel like I haven’t lived a life. I feel that I’ve been robbed. I’ve got stuck in that little girl mode and I wasn’t able to function as an adult. I look at people walking in the street, holding hands and I wonder what it’s like to have such a relationship … I’m not emotionally able to feel things. I feel anger. I feel sadness. But I don’t seem to be able to feel any of the positive feelings.’
Noula told the Commissioner, ‘I think the most important thing for me is to know that someone’s believing me and believing all the girls … There’s probably so many girls that didn’t get to come here, basically because they were successful in, you know, taking their own lives …
‘I don’t think people realise the degree that something like that can affect someone. I just want to protect other kids. No one should have to go through it. It’s very violent … It takes away any sense of self. It takes away any sense of respect or love. It alienates you from life … It’s very hard to live a normal life.’
Noula has reported Ellis to the police and is waiting to hear from them about a trial. She’s not the only one to have reported him. Taking that step is helping her realise that the abuse was not her fault.
‘The thought that this is going to go to trial, and that person that did this to us is going actually pay for his actions, I think, to me, that’s the driving force. I really want him to take responsibility for what he’s done … I don’t care about compensation. I just want the bastard to pay.’
All her life, people have told Noula to ‘get over it’. She said, ‘I’ve heard that saying so many times and I keep thinking, “You’ve got no idea. You’ve got no idea”. It’s very easy for people to just dismiss … You know, it’s a crime … A whole life wasted … because no one was there to pick up … to say, “Hey, it’s okay” …’