Child sex abuse royal commission: Hearings to put spotlight on abuse at Parramatta and Hay girls homes
Updated Thu 27 Feb 2014, 10:23am AEDT
The child sex abuse royal commission will today hear the stories of women who were abused at two state-run institutions for girls in New South Wales.
The commission will hear evidence of abuse from 16 women who were sent as children to live at Parramatta Girls Training School in Sydney and Hay Institution for Girls, in the Riverina region, between 1950 and 1974.
Former residents have not been compensated for the abuse they endured as many did not make formal complaints at the time.
For its seventh public hearing, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will also look into the statute of limitations for such claims.
The reason why these stories haven’t been heard before is because we were girls that went through a situation of shame – absolute shame.Sharyn Kennedy, who spent time at both institutions
Commission chief executive Janette Dines describes the women’s stories of rape and physical abuse at the homes as shocking.
“What we know and the commission will likely hear evidence about is that there was severe physical abuse that accompanied sexual abuse, that the conditions in the homes themselves were very poor, that there was emotional abuse, and often there was the use of pharmaceuticals to control the girls’ behaviour,” she said.
The home at Parramatta opened in 1887, while the Hay facility opened in 1961 as a place to send Parramatta residents for extra discipline or punishment. Both closed in 1974.
Former residents say it will be a relief to give evidence and speak out about physical abuse and rape that allegedly occurred at the homes.
Sharyn Kennedy, who spent time at both institutions, says the lives of many former residents were ruined as they turned to drug addiction, prostitution or suicide, but for others it is now time to speak out.
“The reason why these stories haven’t been heard before is because we were girls that went through a situation of shame – absolute shame,” she said.
“I became an entertainer, a singer, and there was no way ever that I was ever going to come out of the woodwork and tell people my story. Never.”
Shocking accounts of gang rape and physical abuse
Up to half of the girls sent to the Parramatta and Hay homes were Indigenous, and Ms Dines says this case is the first chance for a significant number of Aboriginal women to tell their stories.
“Around rape, around gang rape for example, and extreme physical abuse accompanying the sexual abuse,” she said.
Ms Kennedy was not sexually abused during her time at either facility but says she was physically abused.
She heard stories of sexual abuse allegedly carried out by male officers at Parramatta, including of girls who were taken to other sections of the institution and “shared around” the officers and their friends.
“Considering it was all run by the department of child welfare, I don’t know where the best interests of the child were in those circumstances,” Ms Kennedy said.
“I really just don’t know how people got away with that sort of thing – and they did.”
Since it began in September last year, the commission has held public hearings into the responses to shocking allegations of sexual abuse by a range of respected institutions across Australia, from the Catholic Church to the Salvation Army, Scouts Australia and the YMCA.