WHEN Helena Maiolo was 12 years old she was thrown into a bin full of pig slop in a bid to try to shut her up.
More than 40 years later, the Mandurah woman refuses to be silenced.
Just one of tens of thousands who suffered at the hands of abusers while in State care, Ms Maiolo has made it her mission to speak out against child abuse.
Referring to herself, and others who were abused while institutionalised, as a ‘forgotten Australian’, the mother of four chose the opening week of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse as the moment to have her say.
“I was told to keep quiet,” Ms Maiolo said.
“But they can’t shut me up now.
“I have a voice and I’m going to use it.”
Placed in care at just two years old following the breakdown of her parents’ marriage, Ms Maiolo and her three siblings learnt early on that abandonment was to become a central theme in their lives.
Speaking only for herself – the 56-year-old will not comment on experiences faced by her siblings – Ms Maiolo said being placed in a Salvation Army childrens’ home in Perth at 11 led to “horrific and ongoing” abuse.
“It was general knowledge that things were happening to kids there,” she said.
“You just knew.”
It wasn’t until she was 12 and threatening to speak out that Ms Maiolo suffered the worst of the abuse from one carer who was a Captain in the Salvation Army.
Recounting one evening being ‘cared for’ by the man, Ms Maiolo said she was wrestled to the ground by him before being taken outside.
“He threw me in the pig slop bin,” she said.
“He told me I was nothing but garbage and nobody would ever love me.
Then he threw me in the boiler room which was dark and horrible.Helena Maiolo
“Then he threw me in the boiler room which was dark and horrible.
“I shut up then.”
What followed was two more years of systemic and sustained abuse with no one in authority speaking out for the children suffering at the hands of those supposed to be caring for them.
Ms Maiolo has shared her story with the Royal Commission during a private hearing, and said she was proud of those who had come forward to detail their awful experiences.
“These people are extremely brave,” she said.
“It’s very hard to speak out, but it’s important to realise we do have a voice.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of anymore.”
An apology in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to people abused as children while in care went a long way to healing the pain, according to Ms Maiolo.
Also helpful have been support groups dedicated to bringing people together to share their stories and offer a forum to finally be heard.
A true survivor, Ms Maiolo urged anyone suffering abuse to contact Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.