Angelina told the Commissioner that her main goal right now, apart from helping her daughter Cara get better, was to find the girls who had sexually abused Cara only six months previously. But so far, it’s been an exercise in frustration.
Six-year-old Cara, who lives with her mum in a small town north of Brisbane, had cried out in pain one day while she was playing after school. Angelina asked her what was wrong. When Cara pulled her panties back, her mother saw blood on them and noticed that her private parts were red and swollen. She asked her what had happened. Cara told her that two older girls, big Louisa and little Helen, had come in to the school toilets after her and assaulted her by rubbing soap and rocks in her vagina.
Angelina rang the police immediately and talked to Frank Daly from the Child Protection and Investigation Unit (CPI). He said, ‘Kids are so tired after school … could you bring her in tomorrow?’ He then told her to take Cara to hospital.
Angelina told the emergency department that her daughter had been sexually assaulted. They told them to take a seat. After three hours Cara needed to go to the toilet, but when she did, she was in so much pain ‘they heard her screaming from the outside toilet … Then they still made us wait for two hours’.
It was the doctor’s first experience with a child sexual assault case. The examination took 10 minutes. ‘All she did was lay her down and Cara was freaking out and she was trying to sit up.’
There were cuts from the rocks. Cara disclosed some of the abuse to the doctor – one girl had held her down while the other one inserted the rocks – but she would not say who did what.
Angelina and Cara were not referred to the sexual assault clinic, or a social worker.
Angelina saw Frank Daly from the CPI Unit the next day. Cara wouldn’t talk to him directly but she drew a picture for the psychologist of the classroom where ‘little Louisa’ went to school – Angelina recognised the building – and herself (Cara) on the ground. Cara still wasn’t saying which girl did what. Daly said he needed to know that before he could do anything.
The problem was also finding the perpetrators. There were eight or nine Helens, but no Louisas at the school. However, there were girls with variations on the name. The principal, Tony Baird, gave Daly 18 names in total but Daly said that ‘he can’t go and knock on 18 doors’.
When Angelina suggested using school photos to identify the girls, Daly said that would only be ‘a last resort’.
Angelina is frustrated by the police’s lack of progress in finding the girls. ‘They’re going to do it to someone else and it’s going to wreck their life, the same way it’s wrecked ours. And I don’t wish that on anybody.’
Also, the response from Cara’s school astonished her. ‘Come and do a walk and talk’, Tony Baird said to her, ‘and I’ll show you how it didn’t happen.’ She refused to go.
A friend of Angelina’s, whose daughter is in Cara’s class, had spoken to Baird. He assured her it would be okay and they’d be onto it. Two weeks later he emailed to say she was mistaken about what happened. That in fact it didn’t happen.
But the one thing the police are sure of is that it did happen, and it happened at the school.
Bravehearts, the child protection advocacy group, have been supporting Angelina in her attempts to get the case moving. One police representative told them he couldn’t speak to Bravehearts directly, only to Angelina. She’s left messages with the police but has had no replies. Frank Daly has been moved onto another case.
Cara’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is being home-schooled until she starts at a new school. Angelina is worried that at least one of the girls who abused Cara needs emotional help. ‘If they know how to lubricate a rock before you try and put it somewhere, obviously something’s getting done to her.’