For five years, Pauline believed David and Karen Sinclair were her biological parents, and that their sons were her older brothers.
‘I was taken into foster care when I was three and went to live with them. I had no living memory of my mother, so just assumed that was my real family. I was abused pretty much the whole time I was there, I’d be up at 6 am polishing shoes, I was always working. When they went out on a Friday night, they’d lock me in a room and I had to sleep on a wooden floor naked.’
Pauline told the Commissioner that on those nights alone, the Sinclair’s 16-year-old son would come into her room and sexually abuse her.
‘At first Ted showed me magazines, it just progressed from there, it was terrible. There was oral – he’d do it to me and I’d do it to him, he’d penetrate me.’
Pauline remembered running away from home when she was six or seven, and being picked up by the police.
‘I told them I was being abused, and they took me back and said I was a selfish little girl and I should be grateful to have someone to look after me. There were no investigations or anything. I reported it to the school as well, but nothing happened.’
When Pauline told her New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services caseworker she was being sexually abused, he sent her to her room while he discussed her claims with the family.
‘I was brought out and he pulled my pants down in front of them, put me over his knee and smacked me and told me to stop lying. They all knew about the abuse. Ted had his mates over one night and got one of them to have sex with me as well. The mother walked in and dragged me out by the hair calling me a slut, locked me in a room. I was about seven, and they thought I was being provocative.’
A few months later at the age of eight, Pauline returned home from school one afternoon to find her bags packed.
‘I was taken to a place called Marsden’s Cottage, I was devastated. I felt that I was being thrown away by my parents, and then found out my real name was Magda, not Pauline, and they weren’t my real parents.’
Pauline told a counsellor at Marsden’s Cottage she’d been abused, but said still nothing was done. And as a young teenager she was sexually abused by a male staff member at the cottage.
‘Jack was quite hands on with the girls, he’d watch us in the shower, drag his hands over your shoulder and try and touch your breast. When I got my period for the first time, he was on duty and I had to go to him to get the appropriate stuff to use. He asked if I knew how to use a tampon, I was like, no, so he took me upstairs, made me pull my pants down and he inserted it.’
Pauline described herself as being ‘a mess’ throughout her teenage years.
‘I tried to commit suicide on a number of occasions, took lots of drugs and was an alcoholic by the time I was 14. I left the home at 18, went to a refuge and lived on the dole. I thought I was rich and could buy all the drugs and alcohol I wanted. I ran amok pretty much until I gave birth to my son. I went to prison pregnant with him when I was 20.’
Pauline said that the birth of her son was the turning point and she rebuilt her life, with a partner and two more children.
In the late 1990s, she made a formal complaint about the Sinclairs to police, but was told there was nothing they could do. She has not received any compensation and on requesting information about compensation recalled being told she’d simply had an ‘unfortunate childhood’.
‘At the end of the day, I know I’m a good person. I love my kids, I love my partner, I love my job. I just think there should be proper training provided to people before they become foster parents. You should take a child because you want the child – it’s not a career.’