Geraldine was born in the mid-1950s, the daughter of an English mother and an Indian father. She spent the first four years of her life in an orphanage in England.
‘When I was nine years old I emigrated with my mother and stepfather and [her siblings] … and settled in [South Australia] … I was in and out of welfare homes. The last place I lived away from my mother was a foster home.’ Geraldine went to a farm when she was 11 and stayed there for between six and 12 months.
Before the farm, Geraldine spent 18 months in a children’s home where she began to self-harm, ‘but I stopped, and I’m so grateful that I was able to stop … I just started to cut myself … because Mum never came to visit and it was like they say, that you become numb, that you want to feel something … So I still consider myself, despite all that, one of the lucky ones. That I’m still here’.
Geraldine remembers the day her welfare officer took her to his office to meet Mr and Mrs Costa. ‘Right from the start, I didn’t like Costa, didn’t feel comfortable with him.’
Geraldine told the Commissioner that she had very few clothes, and because it was so hot, she often wore a bikini that Mr Costa bought for her. ‘The first thing that I remember … was when he took me on the tractor down in the paddock.’ As he drove, he touched Geraldine on the breasts and between the legs. ‘When he did that I immediately felt uncomfortable and scared … I was also very aware of what he did because I had already been sexually abused and raped by another person from when I was six or seven, which had stopped only about 12 months before.’
After this first time, she became very reluctant to go with him on the tractor. In retaliation, Costa began giving her jobs that were physically demanding for a young child.
‘The times that I went out on the tractor … he touched me more and more blatantly. He put his hand right between my legs and on my vagina … and when I wriggled to get away, he moved his hand with me to keep it on my vagina, pressing hard on me.’
Another time, Costa made Geraldine climb into an empty water tank with him. He stood behind her and fondled her breasts and pressed against her. ‘I was petrified because I thought he was going to sodomise me, as this had happened to me before, when I was eight … so I knew what it felt like. My fear of this happening to me was greater than my fear of him, so I was able to pull away from him.’ Geraldine climbed out of the tank and went back to the house.
Several times Costa pulled open his wife’s dressing gown in front of Geraldine and exposed her. Geraldine could see that Mrs Costa ‘didn’t appear to be comfortable with what he was doing but she had no power and had to do what he told her to’. Costa used to say ‘in front of everyone that cows were as good as women and that he couldn’t tell the difference when he had sex with them’.
Because Geraldine avoided his advances, Costa began verbally abusing her. ‘He would put me down, saying black women weren’t as good as white women … that their nipples were black and this was repulsive. This really upset and humiliated me and made me feel worthless.’ Geraldine told the Commissioner, ‘Now I’ve got pride in myself and I’m proud of my mixed culture and I don’t feel ashamed anymore’.
Costa began spying on Geraldine while she was in the bathroom or on the toilet. She started putting toilet paper in the keyhole to hinder him. She also stopped bathing in an effort to discourage him. She began to smell, ‘so I was in for more ridicule’ and no one in the house would speak to her.
Geraldine told the Commissioner, ‘Since I began to be abused and cast out, I asked … if I could go back to my mother’. This was arranged and on the way home Geraldine told her mother about the abuse, but her mother didn’t say or do anything.
Geraldine reported Costa to the police in the early 2000s because, ‘I was extremely depressed and very suicidal at the time, and I thought, “I’d better do something”’. ‘The policeman … where I was fostered went to see this psycho and he denied it of course. And I felt crushed.’ No charges were laid.
In a victim impact statement that accompanied the police report, a psychologist wrote that Geraldine’s abuse had contributed to ‘complex post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, depression, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem … stress on marriage and sexual relationship, eating disorders, bulimia and obesity, difficulty relating to children when young, difficulty showing affection, lack of bonding … fear and aloneness … feared for life’.
Geraldine told the Commissioner that she has come a long way since she went to the police, and is a lot better now.
She came to the Royal Commission because ‘People have to know. And like, my sister fell through the cracks and took her own life. So many do. I’ve got a very dear friend that slashes up’. After telling her story, Geraldine said, ‘I feel good. I feel good that I’ve done it. You’ve made it easier for me’.