Kari grew up in the 1960s in South Australia. When she was two years old, she was removed from her birth family due to neglect and placed into foster care. She was moved between foster homes 17 times before being placed at age six with a family where she settled in well.
Kari has a lot of affection for that family and still considers them part of her family now.
There were three other girls in the house, who were about 10 years older than Kari. The eldest one had a boyfriend, Greg, who was about 20 at the time. When Kari was about eight Greg sexually abused her on holidays at the family beach house.
‘Things were a bit more relaxed over there so I guess there was opportunity. Each holiday period if we were all there together this would have happened ... That would involve him taking me into the bathroom and digital penetration. It didn’t go any further than that but that’s what it was over and over again.’
The abuse went on over a couple of years.
‘At the time it was happening Greg made it like, “Come with me, this is our little secret”, and “Does that feel nice?” and that sort of thing. It wasn’t violent as such but it still occurred and it was made to be a secret.’
Kari said it only ever happened at the beach house, but when they were back at the family house she remembers she would hide behind the sofa whenever Greg came over. Nobody noticed anything was wrong and she didn’t disclose the abuse to anyone. She said because there were frequent changes in the social workers who visited her, she never felt comfortable enough to tell them something so personal.
She also suspected that something had happened to one of the other girls in the house.
‘There was a passing comment made to me one day from one of the other sisters that Greg had got “too close to me”, that’s what she said … My comment to her was “Yes, me too”. That was the end of the conversation.’
By the time she was about 12, her foster sister and Greg had married and had their own children, and Kari went stay at their house in the school holidays to help babysit.
‘Greg would come into my room at night and he would just look at me sleeping – I pretended to be asleep because I didn’t want him to do anything to me so I didn’t acknowledge that he was there.
‘Also he would come into the bathroom when I was showering and just be in there for what seemed like a long period of time just watching me through the screen.’
Kari told her foster mum about Greg watching her in the bathroom, but she dismissed it and Kari never mentioned it again.
Once she moved out of the home and married, Greg was still around. He would frequently phone her and tell her about affairs he was having and said he wanted to have an affair with Kari. ‘He was just constantly there’, she said.
‘I did tell him one time when he rang that I did remember what he did to me as a child but he didn’t seem too phased by that and it didn’t stop the calls.’
As an adult she has had episodes of depression, and disclosed to her counsellor. When she had children of her own, she became hypervigilant around them.
‘I was very concerned about leaving them at their house unattended so I would never leave them there to be babysat because I didn’t trust the situation. I trusted my sister fully but I would never leave the children.’
Kari said Greg and her foster sister have since divorced so he is no longer a part of her life. But because she still has a very close relationship with her foster family she doesn’t want to upset them by reporting him.
Kari said she has found it hard to trust people and cuts relationships off quickly when things aren’t working out. She has been married several times, and her current husband is the first she has told about the abuse. The main reason she told him was because she decided to come to the Royal Commission and wanted him to know what was going on. She still has difficulty acknowledging the seriousness of the crime committed against her.
Kari told the Commissioner, ‘I wanted it to be acknowledged and I want my story to be included in the numbers. From what I can gather my story is not as horrific as some people but I felt that it hadn’t been acknowledged and that was something important to me and in doing so hopefully I can let go of it after that’.
In terms of how things could be different, Kari acknowledged the difficulties around screening those who enter a foster family but are not direct relatives.
‘I guess a foster child is seen as a weaker target … if it was the family’s biological child they probably wouldn’t even risk it. But I think because there’s that distance, I don’t know if that seems more approachable for these type of people.’
Kari was very keen to say that although there was ‘doom and gloom’ in her story, being with her foster family was for the most part ‘fantastic’ and she gained a lot from them, not least opportunities and love. ‘I’m still part of the family and I’m their daughter.’