Survivors of abuse in disabled and deaf institutions give harrowing evidence in latest Royal Commission hearing

Survivors of abuse and neglect in institutions for the disabled, deaf, and mentally unwell have given evidence at the latest Royal Commission public hearing.

The Abuse in Care inquiry heard how, for decades, people in care were shunned from society and denied a dignified existence. 

For decades, artist Catherine Daniels stayed silent.

"I suffered childhood sexual abuse and trauma, and I got told that if I told, I would die, so I kept it a secret," she said.

She hopes the ghosts of her past can give some comfort to others who couldn't speak out. 

The public hearing is looking into institutions for people who are disabled, deaf, and who needed mental health care.

"Psychiatric hospitals and psychopathic hospitals, deaf schools, schools for the blind, as an example," said Royal Commission Counsel Ruth Thomas.

The Commission heard how the institutions were advertised as positive environments. 

"The work and training programmes of these hospital training schools, which are attracting wide interest overseas, are now giving the mentally retarded a full life," an advert said.

But survivors such as disability advocate Sir Robert Martin said the reality was far from what was sold. 

"I was locked away from the community, I wanted to be with my family," he said.

Irene Priest spent 42 years at the Kimberley Centre in Levin. Speaking on her behalf, her sister Margaret said the institution which was touted as a training centre neglected its occupants and undid their progress.

"She was learning to feed herself with a spoon. She couldn't feed herself when she came out," Margaret said.

In the care of the Kimberley Centre, Margaret said her sister lost an unhealthy amount of weight and health concerns were ignored. 

Now, survivors are speaking out about the decades of being treated like they didn't count.

Later this week the inquiry will hear from workers at the institutions who witnessed the neglect and abuse.