When Jacinta was born in Queensland in the late 1950s, her mother was still a teenager. Jacinta was raised by her grandparents, and she grew up believing her mother was her sister.
Jacinta had a great childhood and liked the fact her family moved around a lot. But while she enjoyed school, she found it hard to concentrate and was often disruptive in class. When she was eight Jacinta remembered being taken to a psychologist, who told her grandparents that they couldn’t help her.
In the late 60s Jacinta overheard a conversation between her grandparents and learnt that her sister was really her mother. She was traumatised by this and didn’t know what to do. Soon after she also had to deal with going through puberty.
At high school Jacinta did well academically, but her need to be the centre of attention saw her labelled a ‘drama queen’. Her behavioural problems continued, and she started getting into trouble with the police.
In the early 70s Jacinta was removed from her grandparents and placed in a children’s home. She didn’t like it and ran away just days after arriving. Eventually, she ended up in a youth hospital.
Jacinta remembered being taken into a room and forced to have a genital examination by a doctor. There were two other big men watching.
‘He asked me if I’ve had a boyfriend and I said no. He said, “So you’ve never been fingered?”, and then he said to me, “Look, I still have to examine you”. Then he put his fingers up my bum. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought this happened to everyone.’
Jacinta was raped by the doctor while the other men stood in the doorway. When she was finally able to get away Jacinta told the hospital’s psychiatrist. The psychiatrist slapped her across the face and placed her in isolation. She was also heavily sedated and unconscious for days.
In her mid-teens Jacinta was moved to a vocational centre run by the Salvation Army. She was there for almost two years and hated every minute of it. The staff were cruel and liked to torment the girls. Jacinta said the women were worse than the men.
‘[There was a] woman that was the worst, she made other girls like predators … If they weren’t touching you they were touching someone else and you could hear what was going on.’
Jacinta was sexually abused by several different older girls and female staff members. One particular Salvation Army officer came to her bed almost every night. Jacinta doesn’t remember any of their names, but believes she could identify them in photographs. She never reported it because she knew no one would do anything.
When she was released, Jacinta went to live with her mother. She was so happy to be out of the homes and with her family again. Jacinta first disclosed the details of the abuse to her grandmother, who told her to get on with life. Several decades passed before she spoke of the abuse again.
Jacinta has been in and out of custody since her late teens, committing crimes to finance her gambling addiction. Her husband has been the family’s sole provider and worked very hard to keep welfare agencies away from their children. Jacinta said she was very deeply grateful for his love and support.
Over the years Jacinta has seen a lot of psychologists. She’s been prescribed several kinds of medication and misdiagnosed many times.
‘I’d sit in front of the psychiatrists and say to them, “You can’t help me”. They’d ask why and I would say, “Because I know what you’re thinking”. It was hard.’
In the early 2000s, Jacinta was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. She said that if she’d been properly diagnosed, her relationships with her children wouldn’t be so strained.
In her 50s Jacinta participated in the Queensland redress scheme. She received two payments and was told, if she could remember her abusers’ names, she’d be able to make a civil claim. Several years later she also received compensation from the Salvation Army, but this had a traumatic effect on her.
Jacinta has a good relationship with her psychologist and is proud that she’s managing her gambling addiction to the best of her ability. She recently started studying which has helped her gain a better understanding of her mental health.
Most importantly, Jacinta is looking forward to mending her relationships with her children.