Caitlin’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1980s and, Caitlin said, ‘wasn’t looking after me too well’, so Caitlin was placed into foster care in Western Australia. She was four years old.
‘I went to my foster home and my foster dad was usually the one that was running baths for me. He would touch my nipples every night.’ This went on for seven years, until ‘someone rang the DCP … I don’t know how that came about’.
Caitlin told the Commissioner that bathtime was not the only time she was abused. ‘When I was about 10 he put his hand … on my pelvic area and asked me to put my hand on his penis … He told me not to say anything to my foster mum otherwise she’d get jealous, and she’d hurt me.’
When her foster father knew that the caseworker was coming to question Caitlin, he said to her, ‘“When they ask you if I touch you … you want to say no” … The way he said, “You wanna say no”, was pretty stern, intentionally intimidating’.
When the caseworker questioned Caitlin, she was ‘too scared to say anything because my foster mum was in the room. I really shoulda been taken to a secure location. It was not private. My foster mother was very abusive, physically, so it was [an] absolutely terrifying ordeal for me to not to be able to speak. It was just absolutely no way, the conditions I’d be able to speak at all.’
After the caseworker had left, Caitlin’s foster mother ‘asked me in private … and I said, “Yes” to her. She … went to shit, basically’. Caitlin’s foster father was made to leave. ‘So he was gone for a little bit and then he come back … but nobody come back to check if he was back and nobody took me out of the home.’ Caitlin remained in the foster home for another two years, until she was 14, but there was no further sexual abuse.
Caitlin told the Commissioner that the foster home was ‘strict. I was belted. My foster mum used to lose her patience too much and she nearly killed me a few times. Held me under the bath. Slammed a gate on my head. Threw scissors at me … and took a big chunk out of my arm. Truth be told, her abuse was worse than his … When my mum come to visit … one time … I was covered in bruises. I’ve got photos of me covered in bruises … No one did anything’.
At school Caitlin tried to do well because her foster mother threatened to belt her if she did not receive top grades. She did try to tell a teacher about her abusive foster parents, but she just couldn’t do it. Caitlin told the Commissioner that she didn’t have many friends she could confide in at school. ‘I kept to myself. I didn’t want anyone to be my friend because I didn’t want them to come over to the house and be in danger. So I lived a very sheltered life. Very lonely.’
Caitlin describes her upbringing as ‘absolutely atrocious … I had no one raising me, pretty much. I was raising myself and it’s pretty hard on a kid to do that … You wonder if you’re doing the right thing … Like, how could a kid raise itself? You just keep questioning that, over and over again. It makes you down, and I was a very, very depressed kid. I tried to hide it a lot. I was so lonely. I tried to kill myself in class one day … used a compass … Not that it woulda worked, but I thought it would’.
At 15, Caitlin began using drugs ‘to extremes. Drove myself to a drug-induced psychosis … using marijuana and speed. I took trips for a while. They made me happy … I’ve been on and off the marijuana for 15 years. Never touching it again’. Her last psychiatrist warned her that if she touched drugs again she would be irreparably impaired. ‘So, end of the road for me. Done the damage.’ Caitlin’s mental health issues may have been a contributing factor in the crime for which she is currently serving a jail sentence.
Caitlin has been diagnosed with borderline post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative episodes due to post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychiatrists have taught her ‘a few things on dealing with dissociating … that’s helped a bit, but it’s been a big long road. I was a self-mutilator for a good year there’.
Caitlin told the Commissioner that children should be taken to a place of safety before they are questioned. ‘I want some justice for incorrect dealing with the situation by the government. I feel I should have been taken out of the home and checked up on, and I just … shouldn’t have been asked at the house like that.’