‘A lot of people seem to think, “Oh, you’re 72. Why would that still be on your mind?” But I mean, you’re reading it every day and hearing it on TV. Why wouldn’t it be?
‘Even now, I’ll have flashbacks and nightmares where I’m screaming out for help like as if someone’s coming in the night time to grab me or make me do things and I’ve never even told a GP because I’ve tried to act as normal as possible and just get on with life.’
Working hard, protecting her daughter, and getting on with life is what Valerie has been doing for the past 60 years.
She was born in the mid-1940s to a single mother and an American soldier based in Queensland during the war. She never found out who her father was and, with her mother unable to care for her, she was placed in an orphanage when she was about six months old.
When she was about five years old, she was fostered out to a couple who had one son of their own, Graeme, who was a few years older than her, and a number of other foster children coming and going. Valerie said the couple had significant health issues and were very poor and as a result she had to help out around the house with a lot of chores – ‘Knowing what I know now, they weren’t really fit people.’
When she was about 11, Graeme started abusing her.
‘There weren’t many bedrooms in the house where I was and I had to go through his bedroom to get to my bedroom and he just started molesting me. He’d make me do things to him. He made me give him oral sex … He’d grab you and say “Don’t scream, don’t do anything” …
‘It would have gone on for about three years. But one day his mother, it was during the day, early one morning before school, and he was making me do things, and she walked in the room and caught him and I got into trouble … He was allowed to go to school and they just said to me, “You’re a slut, just like your mother”.’
The foster parents told Valerie if she told anyone she would be taken away and put back in the orphanage. She was made to stay home from school for a week and do chores and the abuse was never talked about. ‘It was like it didn’t happen.’
However, Graeme continued to abuse Valerie a number of times until he went to live with his girlfriend.
‘I couldn’t work out, was this supposed to be normal? Or is this what normal families do? Or are you just supposed to expect it because you’re living with a foster family?’
A child welfare officer used to go to the house to check on her but Valerie said she was never able to confide in her because the family were notified before visits and she was never able to see her on her own.
‘You didn’t dare say I’m not happy because otherwise there was only one option for you and I’d been told that so many times.’
At 14 she left school and went to work as an assistant in nursing homes because they had rooms where she could stay overnight and feel safe if Graeme ever went back to the house.
At 18 she got married and moved away with her husband. They had a daughter but the marriage broke up. About 10 years later she remarried but that relationship didn’t last either.
‘With that stuff in the back of my mind and everything, I kind of blame myself in a way that the marriages broke down because I’ve got this thing about men. I can’t be totally relaxed.’
Over the years, Valerie worked hard to keep busy and support herself and her daughter.
‘I never, ever let my daughter out of my sight. I used to come to the city with her and I had her on a dog lead … I was only doing it because she used to get in amongst the dress racks and I would be desperate, I would be desperate, and she was just playing a game. And because of what’s happened in my lifetime … everyone always said you protected her too much.’
She said she was always too frightened to tell the police about the abuse. She disclosed to her daughter about 30 years ago, but ‘she kind of said, well, “That’s so long ago Mum”, you know’.
Her strong Christian faith kept her going for many years. But Valerie told the Commissioner the abuse had always played on her mind, even more so since media reports on the subject have increased.
‘You know, I sometimes think I shouldn’t even buy the paper or turn on the TV because all I’m reading about is child abuse … Like at the moment, who do you trust? If your children aren’t safe at a private college or a church camp, you know, what do you do?’
She said children need to be heard to be kept safe.
‘They need to be given a voice and they have to be able to do it privately, you know, confidential, that they can bring all this stuff out … without being punished.’