Rosalie was born in the 1960s and grew up in regional Western Australia. When she was 12 years old her mother sent her to stay at an Anglican-run youth hostel so that she could attend the nearby school. Although she didn’t like living away from home she enjoyed her studies and did well.
After Rosalie had been at the hostel for a few weeks the warden, Max, brought in rules prohibiting the children from having best friends, hanging out together in groups, or showing each other affection. Rosalie couldn’t understand why Max was being so unkind. She felt uncomfortable and controlled, and like she was being punished.
The girls’ dormitory was located at one end of the hostel and the boys’ at the other. Simone and Carl Smithson, a married couple who worked at the hostel, slept in a room near the girls. One night when Rosalie was very ill she went to their room hoping that Simone could assist and comfort her.
Instead, Carl told his wife not to worry and to go back to sleep, saying he would take care of it. He took Rosalie back to her bed and laid next to her, which made her uneasy. Still, he kept telling her to relax and that there was nothing to be afraid of.
Then he sexually abused her, rubbing her body through her nightie and continuing to do so after she told him to stop. Eventually she fell asleep. She woke up with his hand in her underpants, and he digitally penetrated her. His pyjama pants were down and she could feel his erect penis pushing against her.
When Carl put his hand over her mouth Rosalie bit him and drew blood.
Carl was angry and called her a ‘filthy fuckin’ slut’, and said she was ungrateful. He dragged her down the hall and locked her alone in another room. She was scared he would come back and continue abusing her, but he didn’t. In the morning someone opened the door and she ran to the bathroom, showering for nearly two hours. ‘I think I used a whole bar of soap.’
Later that day Rosalie’s mum came and collected her from the school, as Max had called and said she was sick. When they got home Rosalie’s mum made her tea and Rosalie disclosed what Carl had done. Her mum did not say anything and just walked out of the room. After a few weeks she sent Rosalie back to the hostel.
A while later Rosalie witnessed Max and a group of the boys naked and masturbating together in his room. Max saw her looking through the window, and threatened her. The next day she was thrown out of the hostel.
Max told the other children that Rosalie had slept with an older boy, and this lie ruined her reputation in the area. Many years later Max was convicted for sexually abusing boys at the hostel.
Rosalie feels her ‘spirit was stolen’ by the abuse and the response to her disclosure. She ‘lost all sense of myself’, felt alone and misunderstood and like a ‘total stranger amongst all my peers’, had nightmares, and became obsessive about cleanliness.
She has had bad relationships with men who ‘treated me like absolute crap’. ‘I find it very hard to trust people ... Either I don’t trust people at all or I’m too trusting and I give too much of myself away.’ She has also had eating disorders, sleep issues, and difficulties with sexual intimacy.
‘To stay alive, it’s bloody hard work.’
It is her own children who have kept her going. ‘Basically I am living just for my kids. And I know humans are meant to live not just for their kids, they’re meant to have their own life and live and be productive, but I just can’t seem to get past that.’ She has been very protective of her children, and her fear of them being sexually abused meant she did not allow them to do many activities.
Over the years Rosalie has spent ‘thousands of dollars’ on counselling and ‘alternative healing practices’, but still does not have any close friendships and lives as a ‘hermit’. ‘I know everybody is affected differently but I think maybe I am very sensitive or something because my life is so different to how it was meant to be.’
Rosalie made a police report a few years ago. Carl was charged and the matter went to trial. She gave evidence but ‘I didn’t hear any of the other side of the story ... It was suggested to me by the detective that I just go home and not listen to all the other [evidence], because he thought that it might push me too far and be too much for me’.
Still, ‘I really wanted to know what other people had said’, especially knowing that at the time Carl had ‘convinced all the kids that I was a really bad person’.
Carl was not convicted and the outcome of the case ‘nearly pushed me over the edge’.
‘Being not believed, like not proven beyond reasonable doubt – that was just so hard to take after having to go through it all. And to stand up in court and go through it nearly sent me crazy.’
The verdict reinforced Rosalie’s feelings of worthlessness. ‘Because nobody believes in you, and that means that you’re not worthy. What you say is just worthless, so you feel that you’re worthless.’
Even knowing how it turned out, she would still choose to take the matter to court again. ‘I want the change for future for kids, because I love kids so much ... Their whole life is a result of those formative years ... That’s what makes or breaks you for the rest of your life I think.’
Rosalie would like to see changes in the ways that children are respected by adults.
‘I think bottom line, it comes down to pure respect for each other ... Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean that you just automatically get respect. You have to treat somebody with respect to be given respect. And I think that’s happening all over with kids in general. You know like older people are saying you know the youth of today are like little shits. Well maybe they’re little shits because they’re not being listened to or heard, not being respected in the first place.’