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Roslyn's story

‘It’s amazing what we do to children. Ten thousand years on the planet, and how we treat children, in general, is just a shocker.’

Roslyn came to Australia in the early 1960s, when she was five. She was the only child of her European parents, and her father left the family almost as soon as they arrived in the country. After this she was raised by her alcoholic, violent mother and stepfather, in a ‘volatile’ household.

Roslyn didn’t speak any English, and had health problems that left her with an ongoing disability. Her mother became ill when Roslyn was six, and placed her in children’s home for a little while.

When she returned home, her mother’s drinking and violence towards Roslyn continued. After her stepfather left the home, she and her mother would move from place to place, in response to complaints from neighbours or her mother’s failed relationships.

At the age of 10, Roslyn ran away after her mother beat her, and slept on the streets. She went to police and they took her back home, but her mother told them she was uncontrollable.

The police then took her to a ‘training centre’ in suburban Sydney. She was confused because she had not done anything wrong. Nevertheless she was locked up in a place that seemed like a jail.

Some of the female staff would sexually abuse Roslyn and other girls during the night, starting with ‘cuddles’. One digitally penetrated Roslyn.

These women would tell the girls they abused how good they had it at the centre, which was new and had a pool. They threatened that if anyone complained they would be sent to a notoriously violent girls’ home in western New South Wales.

Roslyn had witnessed one of the young workers penetrating girls with a hair brush, and was scared this would happen to her too.

‘It wasn’t just lying down and playing, it was with a brush, and that’s the vision I remember seeing the most. And then the day that she came to me with the brush, and I can’t remember if she threatened to do it ... or if she did it.’

Shortly after this incident, Roslyn confronted the worker in the kitchen, and stabbed her with a fork. As punishment, the warden sent her to solitary confinement for some days.

When asked about why she had stabbed this woman, Roslyn could not tell the truth because she was worried about retribution. Not only did she think the worker might further harm her if she found out, but the warden also had a reputation for sexually abusing the residents himself.

After being at this facility for a few years, Roslyn went on to live in a remand centre, and a convent. While she was not sexually abused at these other places, she was forced to work in the industrial laundry at the convent.

‘Being beaten and verbally abused while under the control of some really unwell people in weird “work” situations was a norm in all three places.’ She still has a scar from being hit by a nun.

Her mother went overseas ‘and left me in one of these institutions, which I didn’t know about. Back then, you were locked up until you were 21 years of age. Back then, that was the law’. Roslyn is still not sure how old she was when her mother left the country, but thinks she was 13 or 14.

When she eventually left the homes, Roslyn began drinking and became an alcoholic for many years. Although she was an intelligent young woman, she did not go to university until later in life.

In her 20s, Roslyn changed her name by deed poll, ‘as part of my, I want to forget about everyone’. She has intermittent contact with her mother ‘depending on how she is ... She’s still drinking, she’s still doing all sorts of things’.

Roslyn become sober more than two decades ago, and in the process, began talking about her childhood trauma. She started mentoring others struggling with alcohol – work she continues this today – and has also written about her experiences.

It is hard for Roslyn to remember a lot of the details from her time in care, and she would like to get the records. ‘It’s me I want to find’.

She recommended that when kids act in ways that seem ‘uncontrollable’ or ‘delinquent’, efforts should be made to find the underlying causes of their behaviour. She thinks there should be a focus on the wellbeing of children placed in residential facilities, including juvenile detention, rather than a punitive emphasis.

Roslyn spoke to the Royal Commission about the societal, as well as individual, impacts of child sexual abuse. ‘What is the economic factor? Which sounds terrible, but the economic and intellectual loss of this kind of stuff to society.

‘The people, the shining people we could have ... My main reason is to say these things, about the killing of souls, and the killing of potential.’

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