The majority of survivors currently registered with us are male. But women and girls have distinct reasons for being placed in care, and have suffered distinct types of harm.
For example, we have heard from many women who were sent to homes for being unmarried mothers, where they were treated with contempt and subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, then coerced or deceived into giving their babies up for adoption. One survivor, Mrs D, said the matron at the home run by the St Mary’s Homes Trust Board “punched me and slapped me as I was in labour”, then forcibly removed the baby against her will immediately after the birth. Many women have told us of their grief and regret at being separated from their children. Mrs D told us of the lengths she went to track down her son, and of her experience speaking to the mother who adopted her baby years later:
“The mother … said she had been waiting for a call from me for 30 years. She told me she had paid $200 to the matron at St Marys to buy my son to replace her baby that was stillborn.”
We also know that in the 1950s and 1960s there was a general fear of “moral delinquency”, particularly as it related to girls. Cultural and institutional racism also played a significant factor in the journey into care for girls. Advocate Dr Oliver Sutherland told us that Māori girls were at particularly high risk of being taken from their families into care. He found that, between 1969 and 1976, Māori girls who were brought before the courts were significantly more likely than either non-Māori girls or Māori boys to be placed in State care. Between 1974 and 1976, all of the twenty 15-year-old girls sentenced to borstal were Māori.
Girls seen as difficult to control could also be labelled mentally unwell and sent to psychiatric institutions. For instance, at Fareham House in the late 1960s, a school initially established for Māori girls, between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of girls were transferred to psychiatric hospitals.
One girl, Beverly Wardle-Jackson, said that even at her young age she “could see the injustice of dumping us girls into mental institutions, simply because there was nowhere else for us to go. It seemed as though we were some kind of social experiment”.” She said she was sent back to Porirua Hospital whenever she was regarded as being “difficult”, but she considered herself to be “just a lonely, isolated teenage girl”.
Most of the women survivors registered with us described experiences of serious physical, emotional and/or sexual violence while in care. We heard from women who had been raped and sexually assaulted as children or young adults in the care of schools, churches, foster homes, psychiatric hospitals and other institutions.
Several witnesses described how girls – even as young as eight or nine – endured forced examinations for sexually transmitted diseases in stirrups, and were sexually abused during these examinations. In some institutions these examinations occurred on admission into care or after being out for a day. In other institutions they occurred more regularly. One survivor described a female staff member holding her down while a male doctor was “touching parts of my body … that he should not have been”.
As noted above, we are also aware of reports of women and girls in institutions, particularly disabled women and girls, being sterilised and being injected with contraceptives, without consent. Previously institutionalised girls were more likely to remain in, or return to, institutions because they were viewed as “risky” or in need of further containment.
Next: Life-long and intergenerational impacts of abuse