Genna's story

Genna and her siblings grew up in an Aboriginal family in Queensland with their father who was disabled. ‘He was in a wheelchair. He couldn’t feed himself, dress himself, bath himself, get out of bed, anything. So us kids did all that for him.’

When Genna was four, her father had a carer named Thomas who would sexually abuse her. ‘Thomas told me “Nobody would believe you”.’ At the time Genna believed Thomas and never disclosed his abuse.

For three years following her mother’s death in the mid-1970s, Genna’s father sent her to a privately run home during school holidays. ‘I believe this was due to Dad’s drinking.’ Genna was born with a disability and had several operations to address it. The home was a place she could go to recuperate.

Genna was eight when she started attending the home. She told the Commission in a written statement that a male resident of the home would sexually abuse her on a regular basis. ‘He would get me to masturbate him. This happened several times in the classroom. He was well-developed and one to two years older than me. I suspect he’d had it done to him. I doubt I was the only child to be abused by him.’

When she was 14 years old, Genna was raped by another of her father’s carers, Don Fletcher.

‘I was always told “Nobody would believe you” that it happened. When I was about 14 I suppose I told one of my aunties and my aunty told my father. And my father called the bloke into the house and the bloke looked at me and he said “I didn’t touch her”. And my father went “Oh well, you must be lying, he’s telling the truth. Why would a grown man tell a lie about something like that?”…

‘Somebody said to me “Go to the police”. And I went “Go to the police? My own father wouldn’t believe me. What chance have I got of getting the policeman to believe me?” … I ended up getting kicked out of home.’

The rape resulted in Genna becoming ‘pregnant at 15 and a half, had my baby taken off me when she was one year of age’.

Following this and many other instances of sexual abuse, Genna told the Commissioner ‘This led me to believe I could not say no to men … It also led me to grow up lacking self-esteem and self-respect, which in turn impacted my ability to form stable relationships. I concluded that there was no such thing as love’.

When Genna was 16 years old she made the first of many suicide attempts and was hospitalised ‘several times but escaped on more than one occasion’. Seven years later she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and PTSD, and prescribed medication. She experienced periods of homelessness, became dependent on alcohol and abused heroin, speed and marijuana.

For nearly 30 years, Genna had a series of violent relationships. Her first husband was physically and sexually abusive while her second husband ‘was emotionally violent and a paedophile’. Genna became aware that her husband was a paedophile when ‘I picked up the sign that something wasn’t right with my second eldest daughter’.

‘I said to her one day, I said “Okay honey, what’s going on? Who’s hurt you?” She didn’t wanna tell me. And then one day … I took her into the bedroom and I said “What’s going on?” And she said “That man you married keeps coming into the bathroom and trying to bath me, and comes into my bedroom in the middle of the night”. Well, I can tell you now that by that afternoon I had locked him out. I had physically assaulted him, threw him out of my house.’

For the past 20-plus years Genna has abstained from alcohol. Approximately 18 months before speaking with the Commissioner she made major changes to her life, including ceasing to use recreational drugs, furthering her education, taking meditation courses and reducing her dependence on medication.

‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, doesn’t it? You might go through a weak patch of when you don’t care anymore and you want medication just to numb you up. But I’ve learnt in the last 18 months that you’ve gotta deal with it sooner or later, you can’t stay on medication forever.’

Genna does not see any point in reporting her abusers to the police as they are all now deceased. Several years ago she made an application for redress under the Forde Inquiry, but was ineligible for compensation because she had not been a ward of the state when the abuse occurred and the institution was privately owned. She is currently supported by a social work service that is helping her receive legal advice in order to pursue other compensation options.

Despite her health concerns, Genna remains optimistic about the future and credits her daughter for her resilience. ‘I have a beautiful, wonderful, understanding daughter, my youngest child. I can ring her up, fall into pieces having an episode, and she’ll talk me through it.’

Genna strongly believes that adults need to learn to recognise the symptoms of child sexual abuse and always take them very seriously.

‘Believe your kids. Don’t just go and push it under the carpet, because you’re scarring that child for the rest of their life. Because no matter what happens they’re never gonna speak up. That’s my problem now, is I’ve only just started getting the confidence through different courses to go “Hey it’s okay for me to open my mouth”.’

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