‘My mother, siblings and I grew up in immense poverty with lack of adequate education, and in constant threat of abuse, being physical, emotional and sexual in nature.’
Roseanne’s mother had an intellectual disability and at a young age married an alcoholic man. He was violent towards her and would ‘have sex with women in front my mother and us children when we were little’. After separating from him, Rosanne’s mother met a man who became her de facto partner, and his ‘father abused my brother and myself’.
Rosanne told the Commissioner that in the early 1970s, her mother took the family to Sydney where they lived on the streets of the CBD, as well as in various refuges and homes. Placed in a council house, her mother soon had another live-in boyfriend, Gerald Grayson.
‘He sodomised my brother for years. He sexually assaulted me for years. He sexually assaulted my sisters for years. He bashed us.’
Her brother later suicided ‘because of the sexual abuse, but also from having his family taken away’. It was just days before his 21st birthday – ‘He didn’t want to be a man'.
Over the next few years the children were placed in lots of different homes by Youth and Community Services (YaCS). Though Roseanne ‘had a few really good people’ who were very kind to her, other placements weren’t so good. At one institution, Roseanne was made to sit on the caretaker’s lap, and she was subjected to internal searches from female staff.
‘In between all of that, this man, Grayson, was in and out of our lives all the time.’ Grayson once kicked her brother in an attack that almost killed him, and left him needing to learn to walk and talk again. ‘We were told if we said anything we’d be next.’
The family’s YaCS case worker would try to intervene, but Grayson would always return. Finally, he was removed by police, but charges were not laid. Roseanne has recently reported Grayson, now in his 70s, for the abuse against her and other members of her family.
At the age of 12 Roseanne was placed with Mr and Mrs Devlin, and believed this was just for the school holidays. ‘During this time not one person explained to me that I had been placed in permanent care, and I had expected to be returned to my mother.’
The Devlins belonged to a small Christian church. Ed Newman, the elder and leader of the church, was a bullying and dominating man.
There were numerous other foster children within this community. They were all treated badly, being ignored and ostracised, and made to do hard physical chores.
Roseanne knew she was thought of as a ‘low-life street kid nothing’. They were told they would never amount to anything, ‘and you’ll be hosed out of a gutter someday’, especially if they left the church.
Roseanne was subjected to regular ‘body checks’, and Mrs Devlin ‘would rub her hands up my legs to check if had tampons and things, or if I had shaved my legs’.
When Roseanne got her period and wanted to tell her mother, Mrs Devlin said ‘you haven’t got a mother, we’re your parents now’. She was only allowed to see her mother and siblings once a year at the discretion of the church. After one visit she tried to leave with her mother, but was dragged out of the car and sent to see Newman.
He referred to her as gutter trash and lifted her head up to the level of his crotch. On other occasions she was summoned to his study, and he would usually have his fly undone. Roseanne always felt sexually threatened by him.
Roseanne was a good student, and intended to train as a nurse. When she told Newman of her plans, he said it was ‘not God’s will’. Being strong-willed, Roseanne told him he must have his wires crossed as she had spoken to God and he wanted her to be a nurse.
When she spoke to her school principal about her experiences with Newman and the church, he contacted YaCS. She was removed from the Devlin family and sent to another placement.
Members of the church threatened her, telling her she would go to hell for leaving the church, and after she left they stalked her. ‘I still have night terrors that I am locked up in that place. I still wake up in a sweat thinking I can’t get out.’
The church received some negative media attention in the early 2000s, particularly in regard to Newman’s domineering leadership style. Newman is now deceased, but Roseanne would like the church to be formally investigated, and an apology made for the physical, psychological and spiritual abuse she experienced there.
Roseanne would also like to see YaCS held to account for not checking on her welfare during her various placements. She is considering seeking compensation and wants to recover her YaCS file.
Roseanne got on with her life after leaving the Devlins, becoming a nurse and starting a family of her own. ‘I feel bad that my family suffered, because I’m not healthy, and I haven’t always been healthy. And I haven’t always had good thoughts. I’m sad about that.’
Although she wished she’d received counselling when she was younger, she isn’t interested in engaging with it now. ‘It’s my journey, and I hope someone else learns from this ... That’s my healing I suppose.’
She credits the people who helped her earlier in life, ‘that had faith in me, that offered me hope’, with helping her get through the bad times. ‘I guess I owed it to people, to be thankful, and I guess that’s where I’ve drowned myself in my nursing. By giving, you’re repaying back something to society.’