In the early 1940s when she was a baby, Sylvie was sent with her brother to live with her grandparents in the Northern Territory. It was a ‘happy time’ until her mother and father, whom they’d never met, came to take the children back.
When she was eight, Sylvie was belted by her father with a stockwhip. She ran to the police and told them and her father ended up spending two months in jail. Sylvie and her brother were then made wards of the state and separated, sent to children’s homes in two different states. They had no further contact with their parents.
Sylvie lived in a girls’ home in Melbourne for seven years, spending holidays with her grandparents. The home was run by an elderly English woman, who was ‘very strict’. Girls were only allowed to bathe ‘once a week’, and Sylvie was made to do cleaning most of the time she was there.
During one of the holiday periods with her grandparents, Sylvie was sexually abused by their son-in-law.
‘He came to the bedroom that I was in, in the early hours of the morning. He said, “I made the bed so I should be in there with you”. He was in his pyjamas standing over me.’
The man then lay on the bed and abused her. Sylvie left the house the next day and didn’t tell her grandmother. She disclosed what the man had done to the house mother of the girls’ home when she went back and it was then reported to welfare services. They in turn contacted Sylvie’s grandmother who said that Sylvie was lying.
When Sylvie was 11, she was moved to the senior cottage. Here, she came into contact with Justin Collard, who was in charge of her section. She recalled Collard watching older girls bathe. He approached her several times over a two year period, standing behind her while she was naked and staring at her while she bathed.
One time when she was 14, she objected to Collard’s behaviour in the bathroom and told him she felt uncomfortable. He responded by beating her, and afterwards locked her in a loft for three days without food. She was forced to use a jam tin ‘as a toilet’.
Shortly after being released from the loft, Sylvie reported Collard to a visiting doctor, but she was told to ‘behave’ and obey Collard or risk further punishment. Thereafter she did her best to avoid Collard.
Sylvie left the home in the late 1950s and went to live in a hostel. She recalls that she’d been asked by Collard what she wanted to do and after she told him she wanted to learn typing, ‘all of a sudden’ she was transferred out of the home and into a technology college. When she was 16, Sylvie got a government job, and soon after became intimately involved with a man.
At 17, Sylvie had her first child. Shortly after she gave birth to her second child, her partner was imprisoned and Sylvie was ‘forced to adopt out’ her daughter because she was unable to support her financially. She kept her other child but ‘it wasn’t easy’, as she worked two jobs to provide for them both.
Throughout her adult years, Sylvie has had difficulty ‘giving and showing love’. She doesn’t trust many people and had often been in relationships with people who hurt her. Her first and second marriages were to violent men.
Sylvie described having a good relationship with her older child, but there is strain between her and the daughter she relinquished. When they finally reconnected, her daughter had blamed Sylvie ‘for many things’ that had happened to her in life.
Sylvie never reported the people who abused her to police nor has she pursued a civil claim. She came to the Royal Commission to share her story and to be ‘finally heard’. She believes people like her should have greater access to counselling through community groups, and that care leavers should be educated about finding these services, and ‘knowing the signs’ of child sexual abuse.