Tasha's story

‘But then I found out that it still happens. They go into care and then they end up in a really horrible little motel somewhere because either it’s a domestic violence situation again or Mum’s an ice addict - especially with ice being the scourge that it is here … It’s terrible and they can’t look after their children and the children go into care and I just think, well what happens to them?

‘I know they haven’t got institutions … but there are some like, I don’t know a convent or a temporary placement with a family. Have they been checked out or did they just want the extra dollars for boarding that child, you know what I mean? I just don’t want it to ever happen to other kids. It’s not about just, say sorry to me. I just don’t want to happen to any other kids. That was my main point. I think they should be thoroughly checked out.’

From the age of about 12, in an effort to escape violence at home, Tasha started spending time with ‘unsuitable company’. In the early 1970s she was 15 when she was charged with ‘exposure to moral danger’, made a ward of the state of Victoria, and sent to a youth training centre.

Between the ages of 15 and 21, Tasha was remanded in custody for a variety of reasons and spent different lengths of time in the youth training centre and a women’s prison. During her incarceration she was sexually abused in separate episodes: once by a male social worker; over a period of time by older female detainees; and then by two women who worked in the entertainment industry and took her on leave to stay with them one weekend.

The youth training centre’s procedures stipulated that girls be strip-searched on arrival and again after every period of leave. Forced to stand naked over a mirror and patted down by guards, Tasha said the process was embarrassing and degrading, particularly when the staff member was a male guard. She said, ‘Some officers would feel you more than others’.

Within the first few months of arriving in the training centre, Tasha was allocated a social worker, Jerry Colston. She thought at first he was a nice person, but after a couple of visits he suddenly pressed her up against the wall of the office they were in and started kissing her.

‘During this time he also fondled my breasts - under my jumper but on top of my bra’. She recalled that he suddenly stopped and had a frightened look on his face ‘and tried to laugh it off’.

Tasha recounted the incident to another girl and the girl told one of the officers, who accused Tasha of lying and told her what a lovely person Colston was.

While she was in the centre, Tasha was sexually abused on one occasion by two girls and she also experienced ongoing sexual abuse by an older girl.

‘As far as the lesbianism and things like that, you’d do anything to survive. And me personally, I didn’t want to have sex with a great, big, fat lesbian woman, but I didn’t want to be beaten up by her and her two girlfriends, so I pretended to like her to survive. It was pretty awful.’

Tasha absconded from the centre on numerous occasions and was found and brought back each time. Upon her return, she’d be made to undergo a vaginal examination by a doctor, a procedure she found ‘so painful’. She wasn’t ever told why she had to go through these checks.

When Tasha was about 15 or 16, several actresses came to the training centre and over a period of time got to know some of the residents. Two of the actresses offered to take Tasha on leave for the weekend, and she was thrilled to go with them. However, she believes she was drugged because she doesn’t remember much except waking up in a bed with the two women. She’d never reported them because of her previous experience of being disbelieved and because she didn’t ‘want it to turn into a media circus’.

In the mid-2010s, Tasha followed the proceedings of the Royal Commission’s public hearing into the youth training centre. She thought it unfair that responsibility for wrongdoing was attributed to the state government rather than to individual staff members, some of whom gave evidence.

‘The lies that came out of those people’s mouths was just mind-boggling and they went home to bed. They just went home. [One of the staff members is] still working in the field somehow. He shouldn’t be. It’s appalling. I thought they were going to be brought to account, not just sat there and deny, deny, deny.’

Tasha recommended to the Commissioner that there be thorough screening of people entrusted with the care of children who’d been removed from their parents. She also thought an independent reporting authority should be established so that children as well as staff of organisations could report people of concern without feeling that there were going to be repercussions for doing so.

She’d determined early on that her daughter would have a safe and loving home and not experience any of what she had as a child. She said that it had only been in the past decade that she’d started to talk openly about her experience of being sexually abused and the support she’d received had been ‘a bit overwhelming’.

‘I’m just lucky I’ve got a good husband. I’ve spoken to other people at the County Court and they don’t even sleep in the same bedroom - been married 25 years, can’t be touched. Or someone won’t go and get her breast checked for cancer because she doesn’t want anyone touching her, all that sort of thing.

‘I fell in love with the boy next door … I’m lucky he’s supportive and he knows all this stuff that’s happened to me. And he just loves me and supports me and wants to fix everything, but I tell him he can’t fix it. I’m big enough and ugly enough to look after myself. I’m very fortunate. I’ve got a lot of good support which I’m grateful for.’

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