From as far back as Tina can remember, her cottage father would make her perform oral sex on him at ‘every opportunity’.
Tina told the Commissioner, ‘Often he’d deliberately get me in trouble so I’d be punished and have to stay home with him by myself while the other children went out with his wife. So what he wanted, he was able to get. I couldn’t tell you how many times that happened. There was a heater in their bedroom and he’d hold me up against it by my throat telling me if I told anybody, he would kill me’.
Tina was three when she and her sisters became wards of the state in the mid-1970s and were placed in a family group home operated by a non-denominational organisation in Melbourne. She said they all suffered sexual abuse while cared for by cottage parents, Neville and Lorraine.
‘One time after Neville finished with me he said, “Alright, you can go and get your sister now”. I don’t recall having any emotion, it was just something you had to do.’
Tina was about 12 when one of her sisters told a friend they were being abused, which led to all the girls being taken to the police station and interviewed.
‘Word got back to the Church where Neville was very high up and the ball went rolling from there. After the police, we were taken somewhere into the city and medically examined. Then we were taken back to the same home, but had different cottage parents.
‘Everything went on as though nothing had happened, and it didn’t help that the community thought we were lying.’
Years on, Tina was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘Everything had just caught up with me, the memories and the nightmares. I had severe panic attacks, I wasn’t coping too well. I’d end up in bed for a week or two and couldn’t look after my family.’
‘I used to walk around looking over my shoulder. If I saw someone who looked like him, I’d get a bit iffy. It was an absolute godsend when we found out he had passed, I felt I didn’t have to look over my shoulder anymore. But I’m still very over-protective of my children because I know what’s out there.’
With a history of being a ward of the state and sexually abused, Tina said she’s been denied the opportunity to work with or care for children.
‘I was actually informed I wasn’t allowed to be a foster carer, I wasn’t allowed to work with children, because I was abused and could become an abuser. Neither situation was my fault, but yet I was being punished. That stigma has affected my life unbelievably. That stigma, it’s stuck, that’s what angers me the most.’
In a bid to distance herself from her past, Tina took the drastic step of changing her name by deed poll but still found herself being judged by the community.
‘I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because as soon as people would hear that I’d been abused or that I’d been in care, no one would have anything to do with me. I became good friends with a parent at my son’s school and thought I could trust her, but when I confided in her, she never spoke to me after that except to say stay away from her children.’
Tina is disappointed that nobody was forced to take responsibility for the sexual abuse, and that she never received an apology.
‘People should look at a child’s behaviour, apparently I played up a lot when I was young, it has to mean something. Nobody can understand the feeling of shame, of self-hatred. I didn’t know what was wrong with me until years down the track. Children just want to feel safe.’