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Media

Dr Vivian Waller is a solicitor and the principal of Waller Legal, a legal practice dedicated to looking after victims of crime and those who have endured sexual assault or child abuse. She was admitted to legal practice in 1995 and has represented victim/survivors of sexual assault for nearly 20 years.
Orphanage, state face abuse suit
2002-09-17
by Fergus Shiel - The Age

Fourteen former state wards are seeking leave to sue the State Government, claiming horrific sexual, physical and emotional abuse as children in the care of the old Ballarat Orphanage from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.

Solicitor Vivian Waller, from Maurice Blackburn Cashman, filed applications yesterday on behalf of the eight women and six men, asking for their cases to be heard in the Supreme Court.

"The victims allege a systematic campaign of cruelty, physical beatings and sexual abuse at the hands of some Ballarat Orphanage staff members, particularly during 1963 and 1964," she said.

One of the 14, Janetta Nelson, 46, of Geelong, told The Age she had been repeatedly raped, sexually assaulted, caned, belted, locked in cupboards and threatened while living at the orphanage from 1961 to 1971. Ms Nelson was aged five when she was sent there after her mother left her father. Her four brothers ended up there, too. Life in the imposing red-brick institution was, she recalls, daily torture.

"I'm not here for sympathy. I'm here to say 'How dare they have done that to us'. You were never praised, had no privacy, were threatened with prison and constantly beaten with canes, straps and heavy knife handles."

A staff member would enter the dormitory at night and take girls to his quarters, Ms Nelson said. "I was repeatedly sexually assaulted and raped by him."

She recalled staying awake night after night for fear that if she fell asleep she might wet the bed and be punished viciously.

"I just wanted somebody to love me, but life at the Ballarat Orphanage was basically a prison sentence. It was a question of survival. If you make waves, you're going to die. The effects of the abuse are with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I suffer from depression, anxiety and insomnia. I feel like I've just been born and I don't exist. You hurt and you hurt and you hurt - and you can't tell anybody because they don't want to know or they think it's too disgusting."

Staff had kicked, dragged and punched the children, she said. "I saw a staff member repeatedly slam my brother's head into a brick wall. I was just standing there screaming. All we knew was how to survive." Her brother committed suicide years later.

By law, staff were to use "the utmost restraint, patience and understanding". Ms Nelson said the inmates wore ill-fitting hand-me-downs, and it was freezing. "We used to sleep in our clothes with our pyjamas over them." They were too fearful to complain: "You were a charity case."

Ms Waller has filed summonses against both the state and Child and Family Services Ballarat Inc, the successor of Ballarat Orphanage, which no longer operates, and will seek an extension of time to have the cases heard. "Because of the complex nature of psychiatric harm arising from violent childhood sexual assault, victims are often not able to seek medical or legal help until well into their adult life."

Two women who alleged similar abuse against the state and Child and Family Services Ballarat settled before trial last year.

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