In the early 2010s, Simone was at a reunion at the children’s home she’d lived in from the ages of three to five and heard one of the other attendees talking about the gardener who’d been found guilty of sexually abusing children. The mention of the man’s name suddenly triggered terrible memories for Simone, and the woman with whom she was speaking said, ‘Oh, another one’. Simone said she knew then that the flashbacks she’d been having for years were memories of being sexually abused by the gardener.
Simone described to the Commissioner the constant feelings of abandonment and loss that stemmed from being placed in the home as a baby in the mid 1950s. She felt anger that her mother wouldn’t authorise adoption when an opportunity arose for Simone to join a loving family. ‘I was desperate for family life’, she said.
When Simone turned eight her mother brought her back to live in the house with her and a man she said was Simone’s father. During this time, as well as being physically and emotionally abused by her mother, Simone was sexually assaulted by the next door neighbour.
Running away often, Simone spent short periods in various children’s homes, including one in regional Victoria. ‘The first night I was in the home I was gang raped by five girls’, she said. ‘I was verbally abused because of my sleep disorder. I was rocking from side to side to stop the sleep and stop the terror of my dreams. I ran away again and got caught. I was put into a [children’s] home prison. We were told to strip. I went down to my undies and top. That was when a staff member walked in front of me and punched me so hard that I bent in half. I then was told to strip to nothing. I was taken into a doctor’s room and given what I class as a rape check over - in other words he checked me internally and everywhere. I was only about 11 years old and a virgin. This place was a nightmare.’
Again absconding, this time Simone found a couple who willingly took her into their home. They rang a social worker who authorised the placement with them, something Simone thought suggested they’d had children stay before. One night she was digitally raped by the foster father while she was sleeping on the lounge. ‘It continued on but I said nothing as I didn’t want to go back into foster care.’
At 16, Simone met a man she described as ‘the knight on a white horse who was going to save me’. They married and had two children and at 18, Simone found herself a single mother. Reflecting on her children’s early years, Simone was upset at the way she’d treated them, particularly her daughter to whom had fallen the responsibility of being ‘mother, daughter and guardian’. Simone said she knew little about the world except what she saw on television and what her husband told her. ‘I knew nothing about life.’ She said her daughter missed out on love even though ‘deep down I knew I loved her’.
The family moved often and Simone experienced flashbacks of her early abuse and increasing mood swings. She tried many times to kill herself with her daughter having to ring an ambulance, after which she’d ‘end up in a psychiatric hospital’.
In the early 1990s, Simone met and married a man with whom she still enjoyed a supportive relationship. She told him at the outset not to ask about her past but in following years had come to share some of her early experiences. Accessing her childhood files in the mid 90s was extremely stressful. ‘I had a panic attack. I went to a public park. I screamed with anger, the rage was so bad. I was in a place I’d never been before. I put the folder in a box under the bed and it stayed there till 2003. [One day] as I pulled the box out it set off another panic attack.’
Simone’s daughter, Karen, had come with her mother to speak to the Commissioner. She said knowing her mother’s childhood story gave a ‘rationale’ to past events, including the suicide attempts and panic attacks. She said she knew some of her mother’s background, but not all of it.
‘I went to about 12 different schools in two states’, Karen said. ‘And Mum’s attitude was, “You’ll go to university, you’ll do something I was never able to do”, but we moved around so much and were constantly in crisis that I think my literacy has suffered. But I get by. But also, I’ve grown up to be grateful that I was not sexually abused. A hit or a whack or a hiding in my younger years is nothing, so I’m really grateful.’
For her part, Simone was regretful about her previous behaviour, and that these patterns still manifested in the present. She said her children ‘went through sheer hell for most of their lives’, and the person ‘who’s paying now’ was her husband. ‘He did not cause this damage yet he’s paying for it.’
It was a constant struggle, Simone said, to maintain a sense of safety in the world and realise that her husband being five minutes late home from work didn’t mean that he’d left her. She didn’t think she’d come to terms with what had happened to her in life and doubted she ever would.
‘I wanted somebody with the will and the power to know what happened to me and what I passed on to my children, and I don’t want it to happen again.’