Institutional sexual abuse apology won't help me and other survivors, victim says

NEXT STEP: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Social Services Minister Dan Tehan talk about the government's response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photo: ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN
NEXT STEP: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Social Services Minister Dan Tehan talk about the government's response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photo: ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

A NATIONAL apology or compensation will do little to ease the pain of a generation of children who suffered institutional childhood sexual abuse, says one local survivor.

She says the news Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will deliver a national apology to victims on October 22 is too little, too late.

Bathurst-based Sandra Fitzpatrick, who says she is a victim of both the Stolen Generation and institutional abuse, says “the damage is done”. 

“It was done when we were children,” she said.

“An apology doesn’t mean anything to me, nor does the money. 

“I never had a life as a child, I never had a toy.

“The pain is something I can’t explain.”

Ms Fitzpatrick said she believed the blame lied squarely with the former NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS), which has been absorbed into the current NSW Department of Family and Community Services.

“They came and took us,” she said of DoCS.

She said from the moment she became a ward of the state, she had nothing.

“All that time in the homes, I never had a birthday or Christmas. I didn’t even know how old I was. 

“Every year the Lions Club would give us a present at Christmas and the nuns would take it off us and give it to 'the poor kids'."

Ms Fitzpatrick said after she was taken into government care, she was told her mother was dead.

“Mum wasn’t dead at all; we found her when I was 35. We were told outright lies.”

As a ward of the state, Ms Fitzpatrick said she spent time in many institutions, including Parramatta Girls' Home, St Joseph’s Orphanage, at Hay and with the Salvation Army.

She said what happened to her was so traumatic, even generations on, she can’t talk about it.

“When I see things on TV, I have nightmares and get pains in my chest. It’s so bad I’ve suppressed most of it.”

In foster care, she said she was basically sent out to work as a labourer, and sexually abused again. While working, she said she was paid two pounds a week, but never got the money.

“The orphanage got it all,” she said.

She said what she can remember as a child in care was running away repeatedly, getting the belt and being put in the broom closet.

That was after she spoke up about being abused by a member of the Catholic clergy, she said.

“There were quite a few of us [being sexually abused]. When we told the nuns, they called us 'dirty little girls'.

“We were just eight or nine at the time. We knew it was wrong because the nuns used to tell us not to touch the private parts of our body, that it was a mortal sin. 

"But when we told them [they were being abused] we were punished, so learned pretty quick not to squeal.”

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I want to close the book.

Ms Fitzpatrick said if there was one thing she would like to come out of the national apology and the knowledge of what happened to thousands of children, it is more accountability.

“The responsibility all falls back on DoCS,” she said.

“Nothing has changed. Look at kids in foster care now. DoCS don’t check on them, DoCS don’t know their backgrounds; how many kids in DoCS' care have died?”

She said she believes the government should work more with families and, wherever possible, keep children with their parents.

And as for the national apology? 

“I know it's not the fault of the prime minister, or the people of today," she said.

“They haven’t done anything to me, but the damage is done.

“I’m just damaged goods surviving one day to another.

“I survive for my kids. The apology is not wanted; just let us cope. It’s like ripping a scab off a wound. It takes you back to when you’re a child and the only thing I can remember is all the bad things. I can’t remember anything else.

“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I want to close the book. But I do want DoCS to be accountable; there needs to be more responsibility for kids in DoCS' care.

“Why do they have to go into care? Why not work with the families? 

“We know how it turns out for the kids who are taken away."