Jacinta’s parents separated in the mid-1950s, when she was very small. She spent her childhood living between them, as well as with various relatives and stepparents, some of whom were physically and sexually abusive. Her father died when she was 12.
When Jacinta refused to be adopted by her violent, alcoholic stepfather, her relationship with her mother deteriorated. Just before her 14th birthday Jacinta was placed into a Catholic girls’ home, in suburban Brisbane. At first, her mother paid for her care there, but when these payments stopped she was withdrawn from school, and became a ward of the state.
Jacinta lived at the home for just over two years. From the outset a clique of girls mentally and physically abused her. They would call her a dog, barking at her when she passed. When she was 15, she had a verbal altercation with one of the girls, who threatened ‘I’ll show you what it’s like to be fucked’.
One night soon after this, these girls dragged Jacinta from her bed, taking her to the toilet block. ‘I know I was struggling and pleading, then I was gagged with my own underwear … The next thing I know is I was being assaulted with what I believe to be a mop/broom handle. I know I screamed, struggled, sobbed and pleaded. But I could hear abusive words and glee.’
Jacinta believes that her screaming caused her to lose her beautiful singing voice forever, which was devastating. She also stopped drawing, an activity she found ‘transporting’, and that had given her a lot of joy. ‘Now everything about my life was complete enveloped in fear.’
After this incident, the girls ceased abusing Jacinta, most likely realising they had gone ‘too far’. Jacinta did not tell anyone what they had done to her, because they had threatened her with extreme physical violence if she disclosed.
Jacinta also remembers physical abuse and neglect perpetrated by the staff at the home. Once, when she was severely injured and unable to attend to her own toileting and personal care, the staff let her sleep in her own urine rather than assist her with this. She was also denied educational opportunities, being made to work as unpaid labour in the home’s laundry instead of attending school.
Running away from the home – with the assistance of two of the girls who had abused her – Jacinta returned to live with her stepmother. This was okay until her grandfather attempted to have sex with her. When she disclosed this to her stepmother she slapped her, and their relationship broke down.
Jacinta lived on the streets for a while, and became a ‘people pleaser’. She felt obliged to have sex with anyone who was kind to her, and was pregnant at 18. After her son was born she was able to put her life together and maintain employment, but found it difficult to form long-term relationships.
In her late 20s, Jacinta was raped at knifepoint in her own house. This assault triggered repressed memories of her childhood abuse. ‘These memories over the years came to me in bits and pieces like photos in a jigsaw to finally put together’. Though at first she questioned these images, ‘they never changed’.
She spiralled downwards from this point, using hard drugs and engaging in criminal activities to support her drug use. This lead to incarceration, after which she worked again for a while. After having a breakdown she was placed on a disability pension.
Jacinta first disclosed the sexual abuse at the home to her naturopath in 2000, and feels she was helped considerably by the use of applied kinesiology. However, she had to stop this treatment as the practice was in another town, and it was difficult for her to travel there. She does not trust psychiatrists, and has no interest in pursuing counselling.
In the early 2000s, Jacinta took civil action against the providers of the home. As part of this process, she was forced to read out a five-page statement detailing the abuse, something she found traumatic. This claim took four years to resolve, and she was awarded a very small amount of money, most of which she lost in legal fees. She is now looking at re-opening the claim, with the aim of obtaining further compensation.
Jacinta was also awarded $13,000 through a state redress scheme. She has tried to obtain records from the school and hospitals she attended while growing up, but has been told all of these were destroyed in a fire. The records she has received from her time in care have been heavily redacted.
These days Jacinta feels a bit less ‘strung out’, and enjoys doing volunteer work in the community. Still, she feels ‘like I was punished for having bad parents’, and is saddened by the opportunities she lost during her childhood. She is proud to have ‘broken the cycle’ of bad parenting, and that her son is a good father to his children.
Jacinta has never reported the sexual abuse at the home to police. It happened around 40 years ago, and she does not know the full names of any of the girls involved, so she thinks there is not a lot of point in making a statement. Also, she believes ‘those girls were as much a victim as I was. They just acted out in a different way’.