Viola doesn’t remember her biological parents. She was made a ward of the state when she was a baby in the late 1950s and adopted into another family. The memories she has of the few years she spent with this family are happy ones and she got along well with her adoptive siblings.
Then, for reasons she’s unsure of, Viola’s adopted family sent her to a children’s home in Sydney when she was four years old.
Within a few years, Viola was being taken for weekend respite care by the Cooper family. She didn’t particularly like them but wanted to get out of the home and live with a family.
She described the Coopers as heavy drinkers who were violent. She often saw Mr Cooper beat his wife, and she in turn was physically abusive towards Viola, often hitting her with an electrical cord.
At one stage Mr Cooper offered to get Viola out of the home permanently.
‘He said, “If you touch me, I can get you out of the home”.’
She was seven when she was taken away for a holiday and while there, she was sexually abused by Mr Cooper. She found what he was doing confusing and frightening and didn’t tell anyone about it.
From then, the abuse continued every weekend for four years. She was first raped when she was nine.
When she was about 11, the Coopers formally adopted her and she moved interstate with them.
In the early 1970s, Mrs Cooper discovered a used condom in Viola’s bedroom and accused her of having sex. Viola tried to tell her that it was her husband that had been abusing her, but she wasn’t believed.
‘I didn’t know what a condom was, I really didn’t.’
During the times she was being abused, Viola shut down and began to dissociate so she wouldn’t have to think of the pain and what was happening.
She stayed with the Coopers until she finished high school and then moved interstate and got a job. She married in her early 20s, and also reconnected with her biological family, including her siblings, aunts and uncles. She was upset when one of her uncles suggested she invite the Coopers to her wedding.
Viola didn’t disclose the abuse to anyone, including her husband, for many years. She described using alcohol to numb the pain and she sought to isolate herself from most people. Throughout her adulthood, she experienced depression and anxiety, and has had flashbacks to the abuse.
‘I thought about having children but I was scared that I was going to be like her and hit them. It went through my mind and I don’t think I could have lived with that.’
Eventually Viola separated from her husband. She began drinking more and after one period of illness, was encouraged by a neighbour to see a psychiatrist. In the early 1990s, she told her psychiatrist about the abuse.
Viola said she now had a good relationship with her psychiatrist. She’d stopped drinking and poured her energy into work and health. She remarried and moved to another area, which had a positive impact on her wellbeing. Lately she has been thinking about reporting the Coopers to the police.