Kiara started running away from home and deliberately breaking the law to get away from the violent stepfather who was sexually abusing her. From the age of eight, she lost years of schooling because she was expected to look after her two younger sisters. She said her mother knew about the abuse but ignored it.
As a result of her running away and getting into trouble, Kiara was placed under care and control orders. In the early 1990s, in her mid-teens, she was sent to a Queensland youth detention centre.
The three sections of the centre included one which was a mix of boys and girls, but Kiara was the only girl among 17 boys. Her repeated requests to be moved were denied and she felt uncomfortable the whole time she was there. Isolated in her cell, she became the target for one of the staff who sexually abused her on numerous occasions over three years. She estimated that he was in his 30s or 40s, but didn’t know his name. Nor did she report the abuse because the man told her no one would believe her and she thought this was probably true. She also knew from past experience with her mother that no one would do anything.
‘If my own Mum’s not going to believe me, no one’s going to believe me … Reporting wasn’t even a consideration.’
While she was in the centre, Kiara was asked by her mother to disclose her stepfather’s sexual abuse in a court hearing over custody of the two younger girls. She was threatened by her mother that if she didn’t testify, it would be her fault if the girls were later abused by their father.
‘It caused me to have a massive breakdown. I was so used to not saying anything that it seemed totally against the grain to all of a sudden be talking about it.’
Kiara told the Commissioner that the abuse by her stepfather and the man in the detention centre affected her in every way. Throughout her life she’d used all kinds of drugs and had been in and out of jail, primarily on drug-related charges. As a result, her first daughter was removed from her care. Until recently, she’d blamed herself for the abuse – that in some way she attracted ‘these sort of people’.
A turning point came when she started seeing a counsellor and joined a methadone program. She hadn’t been in jail for six years and the birth of her second daughter in the early 2010s within a loving relationship had firmed her resolve for the future.
Nevertheless, she reported ‘massive trust issues’ and wouldn’t allow her daughter to be left with people, even those she knew. ‘They always come across as being normal but they’re not.’ She regretted not finding support or someone who believed her earlier in life. ‘I’m responsible for my own actions but I do believe I could have been different.’