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Yvette Susan's story

Yvette grew up in New South Wales in the 1950s. Her parents were alcoholics and when Yvette was about six they were charged with neglect and she and her sister were made wards of the state. ‘We were on the verge of starvation before the welfare stepped in.’

The two girls were placed in a children’s home for about a year. Both girls were then placed with foster parents, Mr and Mrs Harrow and Yvette remained in their care until she was 21. ‘That was just a nightmare.’

‘I was eight years old and he, my foster dad, would make me sit on his lap and after removing my panties and telling me it was time for him to play doctor … he would fondle, telling me all the time, “This is what doctors do when they want to check out little girls”. That went on for many years. Always in the kitchen and after tea. I was always alone.’

Mrs Harrow and the rest of the children would be in another room, watching television. ‘It went on for about an hour. And yet Mrs Harrow did nothing. She never come out to see what was going on.’

When Yvette started wetting the bed she was taken to hospital. ‘I screamed. I just screamed every time the doctor come near me, and none of the nursing staff could understand it. They couldn’t understand why I got such a bad urinary infection.’ Yvette told the Commissioner, ‘These are the words, and I know them back-to-front. She said that I must have got the infection from the orphanage. And then she added, “That’s what you get when you take a kid out of those places”’. No investigation was carried out.

Mr Harrow would wake the two girls in the mornings, pulling back their bedclothes. Mrs Harrow believed it was better not to wear underwear in bed, so the girls would only wear nighties. ‘He’d just stand there … and look at our private parts … and he’d always rub me, rub me in my private parts … “It’s only the doctor checking”, you know.’

When she was 11 Yvette began menstruating. ‘It was the only time that he didn’t fondle me. But every day he would ask if I had stopped my periods and when I said “No”, he said that it was time to play doctor, to see if I still had my periods.’

Yvette told the Commissioner that Mr Harrow stopped abusing her when she was 13, but ‘I soon learned that he drilled holes in the bathroom wall … so that he and his son could look at us while we were bathing. I never forgot when I found them holes’.

Mrs Harrow constantly threatened to take Yvette back to the orphanage, ‘always saying that she didn’t want me … she’d drum that into me, just like a record’. ‘It was hell on earth, that house. It was just awful.’ When Mrs Harrow died, ‘I felt no pain … none whatsoever’.

Yvette began to rebel. ‘I rebelled so badly … she just got my hair one day, my long hair … and she pulled me to the floor and dragged me across the bathroom and just ran my hands under the hot water tap, and all the time she was chanting, “I didn’t want you. I wanted your sister”.’

Although regular checks were done by welfare officers, Mr and Mrs Harrow ‘said that if we don’t say that we’re happy in this family and we’re grateful … and they’re looking after us, we’d get a flogging … so we just had to do it, because we didn’t want to get flogged’.

When Yvette was 15 her foster brother sprained her arm, and Yvette was forced to take herself to the hospital on the bus. The doctor was concerned because they needed parental consent to treat her. When Yvette told him that her foster mother refused to come, she was treated. She was given a week off work, but was forced to do household chores, while Mr and Mrs Harrow’s children did nothing. ‘My sister and I were nothing but slaves. She never had to pay for anything. She got paid to look after us.’

Yvette told the Commissioner that when she was 19 she was raped. When she told her foster parents, ‘they said to me I’d asked for it. I just looked at them … all I was doing was breaking up with some fellow. I didn’t want anything to do with him and that’s what happened … And he threatened me. He just said, “If you ever go back, tell anybody, I’ll come back and kill you”’.

The rape resulted in Yvette becoming pregnant, and she was sent to a home for unwed mothers, where her son was adopted out. ‘I got called names like, “Here comes the slut”, “Spread your legs for anybody”, not to mention their son saying, “You’re nothing but trouble and they didn’t want you”.’

Yvette told the Commissioner, ‘I just don’t want any child to ever go through it again … If the welfare department … like, if a kid’s in danger, take ‘em out … just don’t wait for it to happen … I wish the welfare had taken me, or sent me back, ‘cause I hated it. I hated them. I hated the ground they walked on’.

‘It’s just hard to comprehend why I had to go through something my parents caused. I didn’t ask to get born or go into alcoholic parents … Back then, everybody thought [her foster parents] were doing great … and I thought, “You big hypocrites. You great big hypocrite Catholics” … I just thought, “One day, I’ll be out of this hell hole”.’

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