Robin and Cole's story

Robin came to the Royal Commission to speak for herself and for her brother, Cole. She wanted to tell the story of two kids, brutally abused while living under state care, who went on to suffer severe emotional trauma which, ultimately, Cole did not survive.

The story began in Victoria in the early 1960s. When Robin was three and a half and her brother a year younger, their extended family stepped in and removed them from their parents who were deemed unfit to look after them. The kids were separated, Robin sent to live with her paternal aunty, and Cole to his maternal one.

Robin described Aunty Vicky as a cruel, violent and unpredictable woman. She had a habit of smacking Robin so hard in the face that it made her mouth bleed. As if that weren’t bad enough, Robin was also sexually abused by Vicky’s son who would babysit her on weekends. He was 13, she was five.

Meanwhile Cole was doing no better under the supervision of his maternal aunty. She was married to a retired serviceman and this connection entitled Cole to attend holiday camps run by Legacy. In his later years he revealed to Robin that he was groomed and sexually abused multiple times by staff at the camps. At the time he told his aunty what was going on, and her only response was to buy him Lego toys to make him feel better.

Robin was always too frightened to report anything to Aunty Vicky. Even if she had, her aunty wasn’t likely to discourage the abuse – in fact she did the opposite. When Robin was about seven years old, Vicky forced her to go about the house wearing only her pyjama top, no bottom.

Sometimes, when her husband was at home, Vicky would put Robin into bed with him. Robin believes that this was a deliberate attempt to groom her. It worked. Vicky’s husband started to molest Robin, his behaviour continuing for years. Robin believes that in addition to engineering these incidents, her aunty occasionally watched them happen.

This was all too much for Robin to handle. At nine years old, she became so frightened of her aunty that she decided to take drastic action.

‘I came to this thought that I’m going to die because of the stuff she did. I thought: it’s her or me, if I don’t do something she’s going to do it to me. Not knowing – just as well – I put a Bex powder in her cup of coffee. I can laugh now, but I put a Bex in there, thinking that’ll kill her.’

It didn’t. Vicky simply said, ‘Oh, the milk must be off’ and told Robin to make her another cup. And so Robin’s nightmare continued and a short while later, still aged nine, she attempted suicide. Her aunty found the suicide notes and sent her to see a psychologist, who put her onto powerful regime of medication. Robin was told that she had to take the tablets so that she’d stop being a ‘bad girl’.

The side effects of the medication were intense and included hallucinations. Robin started to act out. Eventually her behaviour became more than her aunty was willing to put up with and she was sent to a convent and from there to a home for children with severe mental disabilities.

Robin ran away from the home many times. At 13 she was diagnosed with ‘unspecific personality disorder’ and committed to an adult’s mental institution. She stayed there until she was 17, experiencing multiple incidents of sexual abuse in that period. She was attacked by staff, other inmates, and on some occasions by men who were visiting the grounds. When she reported the abuse she was punished.

On weekends Robin was sent home. Here Aunty Vicky’s husband continued to molest her, and, when she was in her mid-teens, her aunty began sexually abusing her too.

Around this time Cole stole a car and was sent to a youth justice centre. He spent the remainder of his childhood living in various care homes and justice facilities where he suffered many incidents of sexual abuse, including serial rape at the hands of an older prisoner.

Later in life he explained to Robin that his time at these institutions taught him how to be a criminal. It was also during this period that he developed the drug addiction that would dog him for the rest of his life.

As adults, both Cole and Robin suffered from post-traumatic stress and depression and both attempted suicide. When he was in his mid-thirties, Cole succeeded. He was awaiting a court appearance, Robin explained, and was so terrified of returning to jail that he opted to take his own life. In a written statement she said, ‘I’ve seen a beautiful human being turned into a tortured soul because of sexual, physical and emotional abuse’.

Robin wanted the stories she’d shared with the Commission to inspire change, helping to make the system safer for kids who grow up in out-of-home care.

‘I would like the Royal Commission to make a recommendation to the government that they use common sense and do what is morally right on how to rear children in care; to treat our children as they would like to be treated themselves, to respect our future children as we would respect ourselves. It should not be a very hard job if you think about it: make the rules as if you are making them for yourself.’

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