A girl who became suicidal after repeated sexual abuse at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital was told it was illegal to make prank calls when she tried to alert staff to the attacks.
The woman, known as AWI, has told a federal inquiry she was repeatedly sexually abused by hospital volunteer Harry Pueschel and once by another unnamed volunteer in 1981, when she was 11 years old.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is exploring the allegations and whether relevant information was passed between the hospital, AWI and police.
After being admitted to the hospital for a five-month stay for cystic fibrosis and treatment for asthma, AWI was quickly targeted by Pueschel, who molested her several times in the ward’s playroom.
“My friend didn’t like going to the playroom either,” AWI said on Tuesday.
“She would often say to me words to the effect, ‘You need to hide when Harry comes in or get sicker so you don’t have to go to the playroom with him.'”
On another occasion AWI was molested by an unnamed hospital volunteer, who left her crying in a cupboard.
The 11-year-old was then accused of stealing a wallet and coat from the same cupboard, and as punishment she was confined to bed and denied a visit from her parents for three days.
“After this incident I wanted to die,” she said.
“One day I tried to cut my wrists in the bedpan room by using the scissors.”
When AWI phoned the hospital administrator’s office in 1984 to report the abuse and her fears Pueschel was still working there, she was told it was illegal to make prank calls.
“You are wasting time and resources of the hospital by making up stories,” she was told by a woman in the administrator’s office.
Now 46 years old and working as a trade consultant, AWI said she has been in and out of medical clinics for depression and panic attack treatments, and has been haunted by thoughts of suicide.
Pueschel’s employment at RCHM was terminated in 1998 after AWI sent an email to then hospital CEO John de Campo, who subsequently informed police.
However Dr de Campo never put the abuse allegations to Pueschel, who has since died.
“The allegation made was substantial, serious and significant enough in my mind to take those actions without interrogating Harry,” Dr de Campo said.
A year later, Pueschel was discovered sneaking back into a ward after lying to staff.
Dr de Campo told the commission he cannot recall holding an investigation into how Pueschel was employed, or whether there were other victims.
He said the hospital failed AWI.
“We have investigations into patients having the wrong dose of Panadol,” Dr de Campo said.
“Looking back, this is, you know, at the extreme end, and why I didn’t do that I don’t know, and I regret that a lot.”
AWI only found out Pueschel was stood down in 2002 after she approached police.
The hearings continue.