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Rhiannon's story

‘I remember a soldier saying the day I left [the hospital] I should have never been there. That my mother should have, I didn’t deserve it.’

Rhiannon grew up in a difficult home. When she was five years old, her father left ‘and never came back’. Her mother had an alcohol problem, which created a big strain on the family. In the early 1960s, Rhiannon and her siblings moved to South Australia with their mother, and shortly after arriving the children were put into state care.

When Rhiannon was 10 years old, she was admitted to the local mental health hospital. She told the Commissioner that she still doesn’t know why she was transferred there. The hospital ‘wasn’t a nice place’ and she ran away numerous times. Rhiannon said that she and other children were used as ‘guinea pigs’ for experimental drugs and dental techniques. She never received education whilst she was living at the hospital, and instead was forced to clean toilets and scrub floors.

Rhiannon was abused by a male nurse during the time she was in the hospital. She stated that it occurred twice, both times at night when he was ‘doing the bed checks’. Rhiannon saw him take other girls to a separate room, and they’d always come back looking ‘distressed’. Rhiannon was threatened if she told anyone about what he was doing.

‘He said if I told anybody I’d receive the shock treatment. After seeing people come back from that, that’s something you’d never want to go through.’

While she was in the hospital Rhiannon was allowed to visit her mother on weekends, but her mother went out a lot and sometimes didn’t come home. At these times Rhiannon was supervised by her uncle, Simon Seller, or her stepfather, Donald Francis.

When Rhiannon was 14 years old, she was raped by Seller as he ‘watched’ over her. She said that Seller’s sexual abuse occurred for a number of years. Francis also sexually abused Rhiannon on two occasions when her mother was ‘at the pub’. Rhiannon believes her mother knew that both men abused her.

To this day, Rhiannon finds it hard to disclose the details of the sexual abuse because she feels that no one will believe her. When she was 16 years old, the male nurse left the hospital and Rhiannon disclosed the abuse to the head of the hospital but was labelled a ‘liar’ and punished.

Afterwards Rhiannon was moved to a girls’ home in New South Wales. There she was ‘bashed’ numerous times and while there she didn’t receive any education. When she was 17, Rhiannon left institutional care and hitchhiked to Melbourne.

‘I had nowhere to go, no money in my pocket, no clothes on my back. Nothing. We weren’t given any luxury. I was given an American 50 cent piece and was told I was on my own.’

Rhiannon married a violent man when she was in her early 20s. She had three children with him during a four year marriage. He physically abused her once to the point where she was hospitalised in a coma for a period of time. Her children were then placed into foster care. She left her husband not long after she was discharged from hospital.

In her adulthood, Rhiannon suffered from flashbacks and nightmares. She also developed depression, and she continues to take anti-depressants today. Rhiannon told the Commissioner that she became ‘promiscuous’ as an adolescent and was very ‘vulnerable’. She still has difficulty trusting people and can be quite hostile towards others. At times she feels very isolated.

In the early 2000s, Rhiannon remarried and had more children with her second husband. This marriage was ‘happy’ and her husband ‘truly understood’ her. She disclosed the abuse to him, but even before she had he ‘just knew’ that she was abused and he’d always been supportive.

Rhiannon requires a mobility scooter for physical health problems that include ‘shot’ knees and a bad back. She has counselling sometimes and currently lives on a disability pension.

In the early 2010s, Rhiannon applied for compensation. She said it took three years to receive a payment of $15,000, an amount she considered ‘an insult’. She has never made a police report against the perpetrators, largely because her previous experiences with police are associated with when she ran away from the hospital. At that time they’d called her ‘a liar’ and this has stopped her from wanting any further contact with them.

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