Caz had a total lack of love and care as a young child in the 1970s. Her mother didn’t want her, choosing to give her affection to Caz’s brother instead, as she wanted ‘a man around the house’.
Caz told the Commissioner she was left in her father’s care and, when she was seven, he sexually abused her for a period of eight months.
‘I was abused every day, locked up in the flat, not going to school. When he did let us out we’d have to go and get food from the bins then go back to the flat. I was getting sexually abused day and night. He’d take me to work with him and he’d sexually abuse me while he was at work.’
When her mother found out what was going on, she reported Caz’s father to the police but he ran away and could not be found. Caz was made a ward of the state and placed in foster care in Sydney.
While in the long-term care of a family called the Martins, Caz was sexually abused by Mr Martin. She thinks Mrs Martin knew of the abuse because there were also harsh physical punishments for minor offences. There were two other foster girls there at the same time but she doesn’t know if Martin was abusing them too.
Caz said the abuse went on for a while until someone saw bruises on the girls at school and that’s when she told a teacher what was happening.
The Department of Community Services (DOCS) removed Caz from the Martins’ home and sent her to another foster home, but did nothing else. She is certain DOCS knew about the abuse because she has accessed her file and it says: ‘Caz was molested by Mr Martin, removed from care into another family’. But Martin wasn’t reported to police, as far as she knows.
This started Caz on a cycle of being moved from one foster home to another. At no time did the department offer her counselling or support for the abuse she had suffered.
‘I feel like DOCS have failed me because I was just passed around from family to family to family. I just feel like the system failed me really badly. I was put into the too-hard basket … And that’s what I think has happened with my foster father. Nothing was ever done. It was just covered over.’
After a number of years, Caz ran away from the refuge she was staying in and lived on the streets of Sydney. She slept in charity clothing bins and public toilets and survived on food given out by the Salvation Army, or begged from takeaway shops.
When she was 14, Caz had a daughter, who she was entirely unable to look after. She said DOCS offered them space in a shelter, but there was no help for Caz personally and she wasn’t able to manage so she placed her daughter in foster care.
‘It’s the last thing you think of doing with your child, putting them in care. It tore me apart to do it. But I had nobody that cared for me.’
Caz moved interstate, married and had another child and was eventually able to regain custody of her daughter. Caz said, ‘There was a lot of hate and hurt we went through’, but their relationship is now good.
The abuse Caz suffered has created a lot of issues her in life. The damage caused by her real father and then her foster father resulted in ongoing bladder problems, she has a heart condition and is diabetic. Her two marriages have fallen apart, she’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, has anxiety and has been hospitalised following breakdowns.
It’s taken Caz a very long time to understand that what happened to her was not her fault and she has taken strength from this to help her speak out.
‘Back then, because it happened so long with my father, I was too scared and I just done what I was told to do. I felt like I was just being punished all the time.’
After years of being on the run, her real father was recently found. He is now in custody and pleaded guilty to charges of abusing Caz and a number of other girls. Caz hopes that Mr Martin can be found, reported and charged so that he too is no longer a risk to other children.
‘I sat back and I realised I’ve been hurt so much through my life that there should be something done for all that pain and everything that I’ve gone through. I shouldn’t suffer in silence. That’s why I’m speaking out now because I want something to be done about it.’