When Cate was two years old, she and her sister Rebecca were taken from their mother and sent to stay with the Jarvin family in regional New South Wales. It was the mid-1970s, a time when many foster kids moved quickly from one placement to another as they grew up. But Cate and Rebecca were exceptions and stayed with the Jarvins until they were old enough to move out.
Cate said that Mrs Jarvin was a strict, domineering woman who kept her husband ‘under the thumb’. When Cate and Rebecca first arrived, the couple already had several children of their own, including a boy named Trent who was about six years older than Cate. As time went by and Cate grew closer to the family, Trent began to give her the attention she had always craved.
‘I think I had a very strong attachment disorder starting then’, Cate said. ‘Being two I was critical attachment formation age, so I attached onto him and I really adored him and he was everything.’
When Cate was around seven, Trent’s once innocent attentions began to morph into something else.
‘He started to play more inappropriate games as the years went on, and they became sexual and I think he must have known I was vulnerable because, looking back on it, he was using his power, he would tell me to keep quiet about it, he would tell me to keep it a secret.’
Trent’s comments shot straight to Cate’s heart, evoking her fear of abandonment.
‘My attachment disorder is so well cultivated I wanted to belong to the family. So I put up with the abuse and I kept silent. I just didn’t want to lose the family. Later on I felt like it was because I wasn’t a true member of the family that Trent was able to abuse me like that. It felt like I wasn’t deserving of protection, or even worse that I was only good for being used by him. I believed I was a bad person because of that, just someone to be used as a doormat.’
Though she never reported the abuse to anyone at the time, Cate maintains that through her behaviour she signaled clearly to the adults in her life that something was wrong. Reading through her file, she has seen reports from two child psychologists who both commented on her ill-feeling towards her foster brother. Now she wishes she could go back in time and talk to them. ‘I wish I could have just said, “You’re so close to knowing, if you could have gone that step further. Can you please be more diligent in the future? There’s children to protect”.’
Cate said that the abuse lasted about two years and ended because Trent got distracted by girlfriends and lost interest. She then had to deal with the ongoing impacts, which included delayed maturity, lack of social skills, inability to focus and lack of trust. ‘The last person I ever trusted betrayed that trust, and I could never fully trust a person 100 per cent. It’s affected pretty much all of my relationships.’
She also suffered from anxiety and depression. ‘Spent a good decade on SSIs, on medication, which I don’t really think actually helped me, looking back on it, because I still felt really depressed. I absolutely hated myself. There were suicide attempts and self-harming was common.’
In her early 20s Cate confronted her foster brother, demanding an apology and an explanation for why he did what he did. Trent gave her both, explaining that he abused her because he had been abused himself, by some older cousins. Sometime later Mrs Jarvin found out about the conversation and accused Cate of trying to hurt the family. Cate has mixed feelings about this accusation.
‘I haven’t gone to the police, I haven’t sued him or whatever one can do. I haven’t done anything else except confront him and talk about it just that once. I haven’t done anything to cause more hurt, but I guess that in itself is quite hurtful for him. I can’t put myself in his situation, but I guess it would have caused a bit of discomfort for him, especially because he was a victim himself. But I just had to step away from that and go: This is my moment. I can still confront him, I can still talk to him about it and ask him why. It was my right to do that.’