Gina was admitted into the care of Queensland’s Department of Family Services as a baby. By the time she turned 18 and her care order expired, she’d lived in 34 different placements.
Gina, now in her early 40s, has an intellectual disability and her support person Jackie assisted her at her meeting with the Commissioner. Jackie did much of the talking and read from statements Gina had prepared with her and others’ help.
Gina is Indigenous and some of the problems that arose in her placements were because of the relationships between different parts of Gina’s extended family. These factors weren’t understood by the Department of Family Services.
She and her siblings were taken into care because of neglect. Early on she spent six years with a foster family in a secure, successful arrangement that came to an end when the foster parents divorced. The mother stayed in touch with Gina over the years that followed and several times shared concerns about her welfare with authorities. These concerns were never followed up by the Department.
Gina’s next placement was with her aunt and uncle, Audrey and Timothy Williams, and their four children. She went there when she was eight. Her father warned the Department against putting Gina in their care – he said there was ‘bad tribal blood’. But he was ignored.
It was at the Williams’ place that Gina was sexually abused for the first time, by a friend of her uncle’s. She was also sexually abused by her older cousin, Morris, on many occasions, and physically abused by the Williams parents.
In the mid-1980s Gina told her welfare officer about how things were at the home. She was then moved to the home of another family member, a cousin. This was just the next in the string of unhappy placements Gina found herself in over the next six years, mostly with her extended family. Each time, she’d be neglected or abused or both, moved into short term crisis care and then on to what turned out to be another unhappy home environment.
She spent a year in the same foster home as her siblings, but their presence didn’t stop the abuse.
‘I remember the abuse well’, Gina wrote in her statement. ‘I remember [my foster father] would place me on his lap. At first he would start to kiss me. He kissed me on the lips and said not to worry and that he wouldn’t hurt me. After that he raped me.’
This sexual assault was reported to police but the decision was made that Gina’s intellectual disability meant she wouldn’t have the capacity to give evidence. As a result, no charges were laid.
That decision made Gina’s life really difficult. ‘All of the abusers knew each other’, she wrote in her statement, ‘so when they knew that the police felt I couldn’t give evidence it was a green light to the abusers who knew they would not get into trouble’.
As well, in the absence of any charges, her brothers and sisters didn’t believe the abuse had occurred. They labelled her a troublemaker, and were angry with her. In all, Gina was sexually abused by at least seven men before she turned 18.
Gina’s support person Jackie said that when she looked through the documentation relating to Gina’s care, she realised that Gina had been disclosing information about what happened to her for many years – yet no action had been taken.
With Jackie’s encouragement, Gina has recently been to the police again. This time, it’s been a ‘very positive experience’, Jackie told the Commissioner. While several of Gina’s abusers have passed away, charges may be laid against others.
These days Gina lives alone in community housing. ‘She would love to get married’, Jackie said. As yet she doesn’t have a partner, and because of her past experiences she finds it difficult to trust men. But she is putting money away into an account so she’ll be able to pay for the wedding, when it happens.