Mavis’ story of abuse in state care

This following is an excerpt from the report "Institutions are places of abuse”: The experiences of disabled children and adults in State care, July, 2017.

Mavis May shared her story with her then social worker, Ruth Gerzon, which was subsequently published as the Foreword to Dick Sobsey’s (1994) seminal book “Violence and abuse in the lives of people with disabilities: The end of silent acceptance”.

Mavis was admitted to Templeton Hospital as a baby in 1929. She experienced multiple abuses in State care institutions over a thirty-year period:

“In hospitals you get abused: you get hit, and they make you a slave. When I was about 6 years old, I had to help. I never went to school. They wanted me for the work because I was so good at it.
Half the nurses wouldn’t do anything at all. They’d leave it to the patients. I had to help do the dishes and look after the crippled kids in chairs. … we scrubbed the floor twice a week.
You didn’t get any money, that’s for sure. … Staff told us when to get up and what to do. We didn’t have any choices.
Some nurses were very strict, and we didn’t get away with anything. They would hit us on the head with a wooden spoon.
Some staff were nice; some were good to me. They would give me cuddles and that. When I was hit, they knew. But they wouldn’t say anything. I would like the bad staff to get caught. The good staff should talk about it and put the others out.
The hardest thing for me was closed doors, locked doors. The staff had keys in their pockets on big chains. They had windows open only that much, so you couldn’t climb out.
We had a special room for when we were naughty. They called that room the naughty room. They shut us up. The door had three locks: one at the top, one in the centre and one at the bottom. We had to stay there all night.
I didn’t have any clothes of my own, not even underclothes … I would wear the ward stuff, the stuff from the store.”

At some point Mavis moved from Templeton to Levin (Kimberley). Her memories of Levin were that: “It was worse … the place was dirty. … The kids had cradle cap in their heads. I had it too. You get sores all over your body, little kiddies too.

When she was 26 her cousin found her, and arranged for Mavis to live with her, marking the end of her institutionalisation for a long period. However, nearly 30 years later when her cousin died, Mavis found herself in a vulnerable and abusive situation with the person that was supposed to be supporting her. That resulted in a “breakdown” and admission to Tokanui Hospital. There is no information about her time there, but, after a subsequent period of being in the community and then readmitted to a psychiatric ward, she was discharged into a home for the elderly.


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