Melissa Koti says Bryan Gray physically dragged her away from her foster family when she was sick so he could abuse her.

She remembers a violent argument between Gray, who ran the Social Welfare home where Koti usually lived, and the woman who later became her foster mother, Jill Worrall.

"I got the flu one weekend and my mother Jill had to ring up and say; 'She's sick, she'll be a bit late and we'll take her to the doctor'.

"He said, 'no, I'll come and get her and I will sleep with her while she's sick and she'll get better'."

That set off alarm bells for Worrall, who already suspected Gray of abusing Koti. She tried to stop Gray from taking her back but he was adamant.

"I thought he would actually harm my foster parents," says Koti. "He came over and physically dragged me away, though they tried to fight him, knowing he was going to do what he'd said."

After two years she left the Northcote home and joined the Worrall family in their Castor Bay home. But the abuse had left her deeply depressed, verging on suicidal, and she had to live with the aftermath for years.

"I had a sexual disease when I was 16 that apparently took years to arrive. The doctor, he looked at me with such disgust, he just couldn't believe it.

"That stuff hurts. It's those things, that people presume you're a slut."

She went to Queen Victoria School, a boarding school for Maori girls which closed in 2001, but ran away regularly.

By the time she moved to Auckland Girls' Grammar she was already heading for the sex industry - peep shows at 15, massage parlours by 18.

Koti is adamant her decision to do sex work had nothing to do with her abuse, although she realises that many people would see a link.

At 25 she was working as a bar manager in Angels Massage Parlour in the Auckland CBD, when Gray walked in and recognised her.

She ignored him but he turned up at her house a few months later when she was out and left some old photographs of her as a young girl with her neighbour.

"It was very frightening. You know what I thought? How many photos has he got? That's the thing that really eats me up."

She is convinced that Gray, who ran the home for about eight years until 1987, would have abused other girls in his care and hopes publicity about his conviction will encourage them to come forward.

Meanwhile, she wants to rebuild her life. Now settled in West Auckland with her partner and a 3-year-old daughter, she has asked the Ministry of Social Development for $170,000 in compensation for the abuse and the department's failure to stop it.

She calculates it as the amount she needs to get the university degree (based on five years study and childcare) "that I would have had if I'd had a normal life".

The Ministry's care claims and resolution national manager Garth Young said he could not discuss the details of Koti's claim or why no action was taken against Gray in the 1980s because the issues were still under investigation.

But he said the Ministry took the claim seriously and urged others to come forward. "Anybody who was in the care of the Grays and has any concerns about their time there, we invite them to come and talk with us."