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Rosetta's story

‘I find it very difficult to talk about.’

In the early 1950s, when Rosetta was a baby, her parents were struggling to make ends meet and she had several placements in a children’s home. Then when their mother fell ill, Rosetta and her brother were taken away and placed in another children’s home in a regional town of Victoria.

At age five, Rosetta and her brother were moved to a foster home in another town. The Dawsons were an elderly couple, aged at least in their 60s, who often had boarders stay at their home. Rosetta never knew any of the boarders’ names.

She remembers there were always chores to complete, meals to prepare and beds to make. By the time she was seven, Rosetta was expected to clean up around the house and look after the boarders. She fed the animals on the property, chopped wood and did the dishes. If she didn’t complete her chores, she was belted.

There was a lot of friction between Rosetta’s brother and Mrs Dawson. He ran away from the home several times after arguments, but was always brought back by the police. Then one day he managed to escape from the Dawsons and never came back. Rosetta was devastated.

At school, she was struggling. She couldn’t catch up schoolwork while keeping the Dawsons’ house clean and tidy and often got into trouble with teachers for falling behind.

From the age of seven, she was raped on multiple occasions by different men who were boarding at the house. She would scream for help but it never came. From as far back as she could remember, Rosetta told Mrs Dawson about the abuse but Mrs Dawson said they needed the money. Nothing was done.

Sometimes Rosetta was given extra money from some male residents. She remembers on one occasion when she was 15 that a man gave her money after he raped her, but she let it drop to the floor. Mrs Dawson beat her and said that she was ungrateful.

‘That was her income.’

Every three months, a caseworker would come to the Dawsons’ home to check on Rosetta. Mrs Dawson always greeted the caseworkers and had lengthy conversations with them, but wouldn’t allow Rosetta to be present.

‘Each time there was a welfare lady that would come to the house, my foster mother always seemed to make an excuse for me not to be there. She always said how happy I was, enjoying school and life in general.’

In the mid-1960s, when she was 15, Rosetta was pulled out of school to work full-time at the house. At 18, Rosetta moved in with one of the girls who had boarded at the house. She was surprised that someone could be so kind to her.

Rosetta was 19 when she married a violent man, who often raped her. She stayed with him for over 10 years. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she took their child and left him and found a job that made her feel settled.

Throughout life, Rosetta had been afraid of men. She had a series of health problems, which she believes stem from the forced labour at the Dawsons. One of the things that has helped with managing flashbacks to her childhood is hypnotherapy.

Rosetta never made a police report about the sexual abuse. She doesn’t know the names of the men who raped her, and hasn’t reported Mr and Mrs Dawson to the police because they died many years ago. She also didn’t want to relive her experiences and be involved in an investigation.

Her first disclosure about the abuse was to a counsellor in the mid-1990s. She has told an ex-partner but not her child. Rosetta came to the Royal Commission because she wanted to be believed and have her story heard. She does not want this to happen again to any child.

‘I always thought that if I told my story that somebody else might be able to be helped as well.’

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