The investigation into the Parramatta Training School for Girls and the Institution for Girls in Hay was one of the first case studies undertaken by the Royal Commission due to the staggering amount of allegations made about the institutions. At the hearing, victims gave evidence of sexual, physical and psychological abuse experienced at the hands of staff members. The abuse was ongoing from 1950 to 1974 when the school was finally closed due to public outcry.
The Royal Commission heard evidence from sixteen former wards of Parramatta Training School, four of whom also spent time at the Hay Institution which was annexed to Parramatta Training School. The Royal Commission heard evidence from the women of physical and sexual assault by male staff members, some of whom were superintendents or deputies and all of whom were entrusted with the girls’ care. At the hearing, the girls recounted some of their horrific experiences – being sexually abused by more than one male staff member, being sexually abused repeatedly during their time in the institution, being drugged to sedate them whilst being sexually abused, and being beaten to stop them from resisting the sexual abuse. One witness explained how girls would be sent to isolation as punishment and that staff members could physically or sexually assault them in insolation without anybody noticing. Some staff members would even send girls to isolation, despite them not having broken any rules, simply because the girls bore bruises on their body from sexual abuse and the staff member had to keep them hidden away until the bruising had faded. Another witness even noted how girls who had never been outside the school had become pregnant which clearly suggested these girls had been raped by staff members but, despite all this, no corrective measures were ever put in place.
In fact, despite the ongoing abuse suffered by the girls, the Royal Commission discovered that nearly all of the abuse went unreported or was not investigated. The girls explained to the Royal Commission that they did not report the sexual abuse because they were fearful they would not be believed or would be punished by the staff members, ashamed they had been unable to prevent the abuse, and concerned there was nobody to report the abuse to. The girls told of how the staff members would either threaten to lock anybody who spoke to the welfare officers in isolation or threaten to send them to Hay. On the rare occasions they were given an opportunity to speak to the welfare officers, the officers did not ask the right questions to bring out the complaints. Ironically, of the few instances in which girls did report sexual abuse to the police after they had left the institution, the police would refuse to prosecute because the alleged perpetrators were ‘too old’ or ‘too ill’ – despite the fact that the girls had clearly been too young and too vulnerable when they were subject to the abuse. The Royal Commission only found two instance of a staff member being found guilty of internal conduct over the 24 year period but no criminal charges were ever pressed. The lack of documented evidence, redress or accountability is extremely disappointing to see.
Despite the large number of girls who gave evidence, only two ever received any compensation for the sexual abuse they suffered because most were outside the strict statutory limitation period of three years. The Royal Commission noted how we at Gerard Malouf & Partners tried to bring a class action in 2007 against the Parramatta Training School but were ultimately prevented from doing so because of this unfairly restrictive limitation period. It has been eight years since this first attempt to achieve justice for the victims at Parramatta Training School but it is certainly not the last attempt we will make. The Royal Commission has recommended repealing the statutory limitation period and, once this is done, we are ready to fight for the compensation that victims at these schools deserve. Sexual abuse is never justifiable, especially at the hands of someone who was entrusted with you care. If you, or someone you know, suffered from sexual abuse whilst in the care of the Parramatta Training School or Hay Institution between 1950 and 1974, we encourage you to contact our specialist team to discuss your right to compensation.