Karise’s mother was an avid supporter of an alternative lifestyle community in the small town in New South Wales where they lived. She often took the young Karise with her to classes and camps there, and one day Karise went to a camp at one of the community centres on her own. She had such a good time that at the end of her stay she told her parents she didn’t want to leave.
That was okay with her mother. Her father resisted but eventually gave in.
‘At the time they felt the world didn’t have a lot to offer … Here was this wonderful opportunity for me to have a better life without drugs and crime ... So I stayed.’
Karise lived at the centre for the next few years. At first, she loved it. She had close friends, and she adored Janine, a mother figure to the younger children who was assistant to the community’s leader, Josh Griet. Over time though she noticed that if she spent time with her parents when they visited, Janine would exclude her from the group. ‘By remaining connected with them I risked rejection from Janine’, Karise explained.
When winter came, Janine wouldn’t give Karise the warm clothing and shoes she gave the other kids. She told Karise it was because her parents hadn’t donated their worldly goods to the community, unlike other parents. Eventually Karise’s parents signed documents giving Griet and Janine guardianship of Karise, which meant they now received her government benefits.
When Karise began high school, studying by correspondence with other community children, her life became suddenly more difficult. If Karise didn’t manage to complete her homework, or if she slept in, or didn’t do her allocated tasks to perfection, Janine would beat her. The attacks were frequent, ferocious and terrifying.
When Karise was in her early teens, Janine ordered her and several other of the teenage girls to give Griet a massage. The girls went to Griet’s room and found him lying naked. Karise was told to massage his buttocks, but as she did he rolled over and he put her hand on his penis.
This was the first of many such massages.
Some years later, Griet chose her to accompany him on a trip to other centres. Because the children seldom left the centre, this felt like a special treat, Karise said. She was genuinely excited.
The trip turned out to be an opportunity for Griet to sexually abuse Karise. It began with 'massages'. Then Karise was required to spend nights with him, where he forced her to perform other sex acts. On another trip shortly after, he raped her. Other trips followed, and on all of them Griet made Karise have sex with him. Sometimes he’d take other girls along on the trips as well – as it turned out, he was also sexually abusing them.
Back at the centre, Janine would summon Karise to Griet’s room to have sex with him. There was one upside to the abuse, Karise said – it meant that Janine stopped beating her.
Karise felt there was nothing she could do. ‘That was my life. And we rarely had exposure to the outside world … If we were ever taken out to the local town we felt like we didn’t belong anywhere. We were like aliens. People would look at us like weird people. So even though it was abusive it was home.’
When Karise was in her mid-teens, Griet sent her to a different centre. Her new situation put her in contact with people from outside the community. For the first time, Karise began to understand that she too could choose to live a different life.
One night walking home she had a sudden thought: ‘The thought of maybe I don’t have to be here'. Late that night she called her parents to ask if she could return home. They arrived to collect her soon after.
Karise found it difficult to settle back into life at home. She and her mother got on badly. One day her mother threatened to send her back to the community. Only then did Karise disclose what had happened to her there.
Griet was eventually found guilty of sexual offences, but his conviction was overturned on appeal. Karise was involved in the trial but had no contact with people from the community for many years afterwards.
‘I was still of that mindset that I’d dobbed, and I thought they would all be angry at me for dobbing’, she recalled. ‘I felt I was to blame.’
Her own mother still doubts her version of events, she said.
‘For many years afterwards … she still kept pictures of Griet on her bookshelf, on her mantelpiece … I didn’t feel I had her support.’
Karise is now happily married and has her own children. She had recently seen a counsellor for the first time, but found it annoying. ‘She had no grasp of the story, or understanding of it, really … I just felt I was wasting my money educating her.’
But she told the Commissioner she believes she will try counselling again. ‘I thought I was okay, just different to everyone else’, she said. Recently she’s felt unsure about that. ‘I guess I’m only at the beginning of realising what problems it’s caused.’