When she was seven years old, Kanira was adopted overseas and brought to the home of the Bensons, a married couple in South Australia. Three months after her arrival in the mid-1970s, the couple separated and Kanira and her adopted brother were left in the sole care of Mr Benson who physically and sexually abused the children over a period of five years.
Kanira said she fled the house at 12 and was placed in government-run temporary accommodation. She was assaulted on the first night by an older boy who came into her room and put his penis near her vagina. Her screams alerted others and the boy was evicted from the room.
After this placement Kanira was sent to live in a Salvation Army children’s home in Adelaide. One day she was exercising in the gymnasium when an older boy came in and told her to take her clothes off and lie on one of the benches. ‘He told me to strip off on the benchtop and he tried to rape me, but a girl walked in and saved me just in the nick of time.’
Kanira attributed the assaults partly to her conditioning by Mr Benson, who had intimidated her with violence and threats over many years. She didn’t trust anyone nor did she know how to prevent or get out of situations where her safety was compromised. When she was 14, she was on a Salvation Army camp when two workers ordered her to take her pants off, and they then raped her. She said other kids who saw the incident were laughing and joking about it, and Kanira didn’t know why. ‘Even though I was older, I had the mindset of a little girl’, she said. ‘Thinking back now I must have been naive or dumb.’
At around the same time, one day Kanira was taken from the Salvation Army home to a nearby flat by an older girl who ordered her into a bedroom where a man was lying naked on a bed. ‘He shoved his penis into my mouth and climaxed.’ The older girl Kanira then told her to get out and not tell anybody.
Kanira told the Commissioner she’d been in a succession of violent relationships, including at 18, when she’d stayed with a man who drugged and anally raped her over many months. She didn’t report that or any other abuse to others.
‘I’d been trained to shut my mouth, not to speak to doctors, never see doctors, never speak to teachers, never speak to adults, never speak to children, so I didn’t know there were good people’, she said.
It was 1996 before Kanira consulted a doctor about bowel problems she’d sustained as a result of the assaults. When the doctor asked her directly whether she’d been raped, Kanira denied it because she felt ashamed.
Although she’d seen a counsellor in the past, Kanira hadn’t found it helpful because she thought the woman was ‘soft’ and couldn’t get to the ‘nitty gritty’. A recent appointment with a psychologist had been slightly more successful. ‘It kind of helps, but I feel like I’m trapped in trauma … I’ve always found it difficult to move on. People say, “Leave it in the past”, but it’s difficult when you’ve been conditioned.’
Kanira told the Commissioner she now lived with her 20-year-old son while her younger daughter remained in state care and an older son was living independently. She was considering reporting some of the assaults to South Australia Police, but was worried about being dismissed. ‘I want them to listen, not say, “She’s got bipolar disorder” … I don’t want to go by myself and get fobbed off.’