When Sandra’s mother was hospitalised, her young children were left to fend for themselves.
It was the late 1950s and Sandra was four years old. She remembers her older brother stealing their neighbours’ milk and bread delivery to feed his starving siblings.
The children soon caught the attention of authorities and were made wards of the state. Sandra and her younger sister Jane were placed in a children’s home in Sydney where conditions were tough.
Before she turned 10, Sandra was sent to live with the Jansen family who, she says, were upstanding members of the community – from outward appearances. But Sandra holds few positive memories of the time she spent with her foster parents, and recounted to the Commissioner the abuse she regularly endured.
She was raped by Mr Jansen for the first time when she was 10, and the abuse continued for nine years.
‘When they fostered a younger girl called Joan a couple of years after I arrived he started on her as well. If we tried to protect ourselves we were beaten with a red dog collar which had silver studs on it.’
To this day, the sight of a bar of soap triggers distressing memories of the time she spent in the Jansens' house.
‘Mr Jansen sometimes used to shove a bar of soap up my bum because he said I was being a bitch and needed to be cleaned out. We were subjected to soap and water enemas as well.’
Disclosure of the abuse to a parish priest and a caseworker resulted in beatings from the Jansens so severe, Sandra said, that she was unable to walk properly for days afterward. And nothing changed.
Although she was eventually adopted by the Jansens, Sandra ran away from them when she was 19. She still carries a heavy burden of guilt for Joan’s suffering. She tearfully recalled a discussion she had with Joan when they reunited last year.
‘She told me how she’d suffered when I left. She had to cop the rapes and everything all herself, and she said she’s never forgiven me for leaving her there alone. I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.’
Sandra’s adopted name continues to taunt her.
‘I go by my birth name and have tried to have that other name permanently removed from my birth certificate, but I’ve been told it will always be there. I’m hoping to feel some self-worth out of all this, and having that name removed from my records would be a start.’