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Gabriela's story

Gabriela spoke on behalf of her daughter, Tabatha, who was sexually abused while living in residential care run by the Salvation Army. Gabriela learned the details of the abuse in the mid-2010s when Tabatha broke down in the kitchen one day and told her. Several months later, Tabatha died of a drug overdose. She was 16.

Gabriela said that the story really began when Tabatha was 12 years old. Around that time Tabatha disclosed that her own dad – Gabriela’s ex-partner – had been abusing her for years.

After she got over the shock, Gabriela organised for her daughter to make a statement to police. Unfortunately, in the days that followed, Tabatha’s father ‘re-groomed’ her and convinced her not to pursue the case. After that Tabatha became violent at home and started sneaking out of the house to visit her dad, who sometimes provided her with illegal drugs. The situation became dangerous for Tabatha so she was moved into a Salvation Army care home.

From the outset, Gabriela was disappointed with the way the home was run.

She told the Commissioner, ‘I had to be on top of these people constantly. It got to the point where I asked to be put on the payroll because I was doing their job’.

For instance, when she discovered that Tabatha was watching pornography in her room she contacted the manager and asked her to put a stop to it. ‘She said to me, “I think it’s perfectly normal for a teenager of that age to be watching porn”. And I said to her, “Are you aware of why Tabatha is in care? Are you aware of what has happened to Tabatha? Are you aware of Tabatha’s highly sexualised behaviour as a result of getting groomed and abused?” And she just didn’t care.’

Similarly, Gabriela said that when she conveyed her concerns about Tabatha taking drugs and forming sexual relationships with other kids in the home she was given the cold shoulder and nothing was done.

At 14, Tabatha was sent to another Salvation Army residential home. Again, Gabriela had her misgivings, particularly when she discovered that the two staff who did the overnight shifts at the home were both male. Again she complained to management and again nothing was done.

By this stage, Tabatha had formed a strong bond with a staff member named Cindy who had looked after her at the previous home. Cindy’s husband Nick was one of the two men who did the night shift at Tabatha’s new home. This turned out to be a complicating and confusing factor for Tabatha because it was Nick who sexually assaulted her. One night when she was about 15 or 16 he found her drunk on the couch, walked her to her bed and raped her.

It was some weeks later when Tabatha shared the story with her mum. Gabriela said, ‘I could see that her eyes were really red and had started to water. I said, “What’s wrong, Tabatha? What’s wrong? You look upset”. She said, “Oh Mum” and she started crying uncontrollably.’

Tabatha then revealed what Nick had done to her. Gabriela immediately suggested that they call the police but Tabatha was against it. She said that one morning soon after the rape, Nick came into her room, ‘And he said to her, “I’m sorry about what happened that night and it’ll never happen again and I hope you don’t tell anybody because if you do, Tabatha, this will cost me my job, my wife, my house, my kids, my family, I’ll lose everything. So please, it won’t happen again, I’m sorry but please don’t tell anybody”. And she said to me, “So what am I going to do, Mum? Cindy was the one person who was so kind to me. How can I do this to Cindy?”’

Gabriela tried to point out that it wouldn’t do Cindy any good to hide the truth about her husband but Tabatha wouldn’t listen.

‘I said to her, “I’ll tell them”. She said, “Mum, if you do that I’ll tell them that you’re lying. That it’s a lie”.’

So Gabriela said nothing at that time. She did her best to ensure that Tabatha stayed with her on the nights that Nick was rostered-on but it wasn’t always possible. Tabatha took precautions of her own and started bringing friends home with her to stay in her room, and when Nick tried to question her on this she threatened to reveal what he’d done.

A dangerous situation developed. Sixteen year old Tabatha would bring strangers back to her room, including a man who was a known drug dealer, but no one stepped in to stop it because the only staff member on duty was an abuser whom she was blackmailing.

Fortunately, Tabatha disclosed the abuse to another staff member one day and he reported the abuse to police. Nick was ‘stood down with pay’ and the police commenced an investigation. However, Gabriela said that after Tabatha died they lost interest and dropped the case.

Despite this setback, Gabriela has not given up her search for justice. With the support of her sister she is determined to see the care home thoroughly investigated and changed for the better. She told the Commissioner, ‘No words can take away and make you feel better, they just can’t. I think Mark Twain once said that you can bankrupt all of the literature of the world and the words of all languages and you still haven’t expressed what happens to you when you lose your child. But let it not be futile.’

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