A former resident of the Victorian children’s institution Winlaton has given evidence of sexual abuse and forced group counselling programs known as “triads” to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Winlaton was a girls-only home for Wards of State and juvenile offenders in Nunawading, in Melbourne’s east between 1956 and 1991.
A witness, known as BDF, was a state ward and resident at Winlaton in 1986 and 1987. She told the Royal Commission the severe sexual abuse she suffered was perpetrated by fellow female residents.
“I was walking around the yard and was grabbed by three older girls… They pushed me back behind the wall of the swimming pool building. One of the girls then held my shoulder whilst another girl penetrated my vagina with her fingers… I do not know who these girls were. I just know that they weren’t from my section”.
BDF said she was also abused during ‘movie nights’ at Winlaton by girls who lived in the maximum-security section known as ‘Goonyah’.
“I attended movie nights approximately once a week… The Goonyah girls sat in the front row on movie nights. On some nights, after the lights were turned out, I was physically taken down to the front row by some of the Goonyah girls. I was then physically held down in a seat whilst some one of these girls sexually abused me. The abuse consisted of fondling and penetration,” she said.
BDF said she felt intimidated and so she never reported the abuse.
“I thought that the abuse was just part and parcel of living at Winlaton. I thought it was just what happened. I had a child’s mind then,” she said.
BDF said she was also forced to take part in group counselling session known “triads” which were held daily and involved groups of 6 girls and a staff member.
“It would cycle around the table and we’d each have to declare a good deed that we had done within the last 24 hours, and then we would all have to declare a bad deed that we had done within the last 24 hours, and then it would go on to discuss someone’s individual problem,” said BDF.
“I feel that those groups actually exposed me to more harm. One of the first things that you discuss is your reasons for being there, and I didn’t have a clue why I was there, so when I voiced that within that group, I was instantly attacked; I was labelled a liar,” she said.
BDF said in 2014 when she tried to access her state ward file, the process was confusing and left many questions unanswered.
“Parts of my state ward file are redacted and there are pages missing. I was told by Freedom of Information Victoria that my client file was officially and legally destroyed in 2003 under the authority from the Public Records Office. Apparently, this was official policy at the time. I do not know how I came to have the documents that I’ve got,” she said.
BDF told the hearing every child has the right to be educated and live in a safe place.
“It is also essential that accurate information is recorded in case files as this is information about children. There is no room for mistakes,” she said.
Ryan Carlisle Thomas has acted for 2,500 vitims of institutional abuse, including thousands of former Wards of State, many former residents of Winlaton.