Following years of neglect by their parents, Yvonne and her siblings were declared wards of the state in the early 1970s and placed in a government-run children’s home in Victoria.
Yvonne was five when she arrived. After a year, the girls were separated from their brother and sent to live in a cottage home run by a charitable organisation. The cottage parents were Ronald and Mary.
Yvonne told the Commissioner, ‘Ronald would abuse us daily, but it took a while for each of us to work out it was happening to the others. I remember we’d all be outside playing and he’d just point at which one he wanted. He’d pick the bathroom lock, so when you pulled back the curtain he’d be standing there waiting for you. One of my sisters hung chimes and things down her doorframe, so she’d know he was coming’.
Yvonne recalled that when the girls hit puberty Ronald would tell them that if they got pregnant, they should say the father was a boy from their school. For five years the girls kept the sexual abuse to themselves, frightened of what might happen if they told someone.
‘He’d say if we said anything, he’d kill us or we’d get separated. We used to have these welfare meetings with a social worker, and we’d all just pretend we were happy, we’d lie.’
Eventually, one of Yvonne’s older sisters revealed details of the sexual abuse to her school-friend’s mother, who reported it to the pastor at the local Uniting Church.
‘This pastor told police and we had to go down to the station where we were put in separate rooms. We sat there for more than six hours, and none of us knew why we were there. The police interview felt like an interrogation, I got the feeling they thought we were lying. Then they took us for internal examinations.’
Yvonne said that after she was interviewed by police, Ronald and Mary left and new cottage parents replaced them.
‘Nobody ever spoke to us about the abuse again, it was just “go back to school, forget it happened”. We should have been protected, but we weren’t.’
In her mid-teens, Yvonne gained permission to live with her older sister and her sister’s girlfriend, and at 17 she entered into a relationship with a 35-year-old woman.
‘I’d never touched drugs until then. Never drank, started drinking. Had me first snort.’
When the relationship broke up, Yvonne met and stayed with a woman called Peggy for eight years.
‘Peggy was a big druggo and we did a lot of drugs. She was shooting up and I was doing that too. I didn’t want to be gay, but I didn’t like men. Then one day when I was 26, I just stopped everything, I couldn’t take it anymore.’
Yvonne described being unable to face intimacy without alcohol, and the financial struggle she’s faced since leaving care and bringing up children.
‘I don’t remember getting anything when I left care, nobody cared once you were finished there. We’ve gone without to feed our kids. All our life we’ve been looked at like shit. Many of our records are missing. There should be more information about sexual abuse in the community, so people know it can happen.’ Yvonne has received $5,000 from the Victorian Government.