Caitlin’s family belonged to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Her father was a lay preacher and her grandfather was a deacon. The family moved to a number of different states in eastern Australia throughout Caitlin’s traumatic childhood in the 1990s.
In a written statement provided to the Royal Commission, Caitlin outlined the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of family members, including her mother, her brother, and her grandfather. Her mother had been sexually abused by her own father and brothers and ‘became a sexually abusive adult. She sadistically abused me from before I can remember’.
From the age of four, until she was 11 or 12, Caitlin’s grandfather took her to a paedophile group, where she and other children were subjected to horrific abuse. ‘Each of the group members violently sexually assaulted me in various ways.’ When she was first taken to the group, she ‘hadn’t realised I would be able to go home eventually. I thought I might have to stay there forever’.
At the same time that her grandfather began taking Caitlin to the paedophile group, her mother ‘gave me my younger brother to keep, like a live doll … I was given choices about whether to participate in abuse and be able to feed my brother, or be safe in the park all day … Mostly, I chose the abuse, but sometimes I chose the park’.
Caitlin told the Commissioner, ‘Although I didn’t have a mature understanding of death, I understood about the blackness you go to when you can’t get any more air, or the pain gets too severe. I wanted to go to the blackness and never ever have to come back’. When she was three and four years old, Caitlin tried to take her own life four times.
Later, Caitlin reported the sexual abuse to pastors at the church and eventually got a restraining order against her grandfather.
When she reported her grandfather to the police, they didn’t charge him because ‘he was old and my nanna was in a nursing home so they didn’t want her to get upset, and my parents told them I didn’t want to. I wish he had been charged. It seemed like the law was just for real kids. Proper nice kids. I felt like I didn’t deserve it’.
When Caitlin’s grandfather wanted to get back with the Church, he sent Caitlin a letter of apology. ‘At the time, I was expected to take it and forgive him. I thought I did the best I could do, but when I read it back later, it’s ridiculous. It’s not an apology at all … “Re-ignite the love we shared”, or whatever he wrote, is ridiculous. It’s like re-abusing me.’
When she was 15, Caitlin was sent to a centre for troubled teenagers. The man in charge of the centre sexually abused her and other residents, but even though she reported the abuse to the police, nothing was done about it.
Caitlin told the Commissioner that she believes children should be taught the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’.
‘Good people generally are too scared to touch you because they don’t want to be in trouble … so you end up in your abusive situations because if you don’t know how to get healthy good touch, you just settle for bad, abusive touch, and then it feels more like your fault … It messes with your head, I think.’
Caitlin feels embarrassed to be on a disability pension because people look at her and think that she is ‘happy and calm and functional and fine … Privately I feel … I still often feel suicidal or you know, just, it sounds silly, but in my heart, there’s just hurt a lot of the times, like really a lot’. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious mental health issues, but these aren’t things that people can see.
‘Sometimes it feels like as you get older it gets … harder in different ways, because you get judged more for not being productive and stuff. When you’re a teenager, people figure you’re going to be fine … so they still like you, but as an adult it feels like your choice is so narrowed down because it’s hard for people to want to be friends with you if you have nothing in common.’
Caitlin found a counsellor with whom she connected, but he moved to another state. He told her she would need to find someone else, but he would like to keep in contact as a friend. ‘It’s a bit like if you had a parent who just goes, “Nah, I don’t want to be your parent anymore. Let’s just do fun stuff”.’
On several occasions, mental health professionals have not believed Caitlin when she has told her story. ‘Not being believed is such a big deal for kids … it is one of the most important things … This is a really good experience for me, by the way. It’s really validating.’