‘Nothing was explained about why I was going.’
From an early age, Tamsin lived with a couple she’d come to think of as her parents, but after their separation in the early 1980s she was sent to live with the Kelly family in a house outside Sydney. The home was one of a group of residences overseen by an evangelical Christian church organisation.
Norman and Denise Kelly had six sons as well as numerous foster children who came and went from the house. Their third son, Justin, was aged in his mid to late teens when Tamsin arrived just before her 10th birthday and he immediately started sexually abusing her. For four years, three or four times a week he forced her to perform oral sex and repeatedly raped her, often with objects.
One day while Justin was sexually abusing Tamsin, Norman walked into the room. He left without speaking and two days later warned Tamsin that if she was older she risked getting pregnant. ‘I didn’t have a clue how you got pregnant at that stage’, Tamsin said. ‘He told me I should never tell anyone.’
Soon after walking in on the assault, Norman also began sexually abusing Tamsin. She had no clear idea of appropriate behaviour or consent, and at school boys often coerced her into having sex. One day a music teacher took her aside and told her she didn’t have to ‘let boys take advantage’ of her. ‘That was the first time anyone had said that,’ she said. ‘After that, I never let the boys at school do anything to me because I realised I could say no.’
At 14 Tamsin left the house and school and had no further contact with the Kelly family. She remained fearful and was ever vigilant they’d reappear in her life. She resigned from one job when the youngest Kelly son began working in the same place, and from another in a remote area of New South Wales when a family that had associations with the same church arrived to live in town.
In the late 1980s Tamsin was seeing a counsellor who suggested she write to Justin and Norman and let them know the effect the abuse had had on her. In reply, Norman denied everything and said that Tamsin had been a willing participant in Justin’s actions.
In the late 1990s she reported them to New South Wales Police. Called for an interview, Norman refused to answer any questions, and as a result he was charged. At his next interview he brought a lawyer and denied all allegations. Tamsin was told by police that they didn’t have enough evidence to proceed with the charges, but if further allegations arose in relation to either Kelly, they’d be able to revisit the case. Tamsin told the Commissioner that she hadn’t included a lot of what Justin had done to her in the police statement because it was too ‘sick’. And while the actual assaults by Norman weren’t ‘near the extent’ of what Justin did, she found them ‘worse because of the trust’.
Though she remained grateful for the advice given by the music teacher, Tamsin said she wished she’d been taught child protective behaviours at school, especially from a young age. She was involved now with children’s education which required parental consent to participate, but she said many missed out on training.
‘Child protection is taught in primary schools and I’ve had to teach it on occasions myself, but it is voluntary for children to do it. It needs to be mandatory. You’d be surprised how many children don’t [attend]. They have to go to another room when the lessons are on.’
The organisation overseeing Tamsin’s placement were still involved in children’s services, running holiday camps and residential centres. She wanted them to be held accountable for what happened, but wasn’t sure how and if they would. She’d sent them a copy of her submission to the Royal Commission, but six months later hadn’t received a reply.
What would have made a difference to her as a child, Tamsin said, was if someone independent of the church and home had kept an eye on her and checked to see how she was going.
‘I think if I had a safe place I might have said something, but there was nowhere.’