Krista grew up in South Australia in the 1970s and ran away from home at age 14. After living on the streets for a few weeks, she got in touch with the Department of Community Welfare and was put into care.
Krista said that around this time she ‘became friendly with a local shopkeeper. His name was Luke Watts, he was 10 years older than I. We started becoming boyfriend and girlfriend’.
Luke’s aunt and uncle applied for guardianship of Krista. The department approved and Krista was sent to live with Luke in a residence attached to the shop. She told the Commissioner:
‘Luke and I had a sexual relationship. It was very violent as well. I was abused on every level. I felt that Luke loved me and I believed that I loved him, and at that point I just wanted somewhere to belong, and somewhere I felt valued and had a purpose.’
Over the next two years or so, Luke sexually abused Krista many times, sometimes with or in front of other people. ‘He virtually trained me to perform sexual acts how he wanted them to be performed … I used to feel quite humiliated and dirty.’ Luke also showed Krista pornographic films and ‘a couple of snuff movies as well where people were actually killed’.
Confused and fearful, Krista felt trapped in a ‘circle of violence’. She said, ‘He would beat me up and then apologise. “I love you so much, that’s why I hurt you”, and blah blah blah.’ Still, she managed to summon the courage to report the physical abuse on several occasions, speaking to her caseworker from the department and to police. Nothing was done.
In regard to the sexual abuse, Krista didn’t report it to anyone at the time but she is sure that plenty of people knew about it. She said that Luke’s family were well aware of it and so were her parents. Yet no one intervened or acknowledged that Luke’s actions were criminal.
Krista said, ‘In the end I felt there was nothing left. I just felt so empty’. At 16 she moved back home with her dad, bringing an end to the abuse. Sometime later she returned to work at the shop for one day. ‘It was difficult to do that but I needed to show him that I was stronger now, and that I didn’t need him.’
Since then Krista has been dealing with the ongoing impact of the abuse. She said it’s had an ‘atrocious’ effect on many areas of her life. While living with Luke she wasn’t allowed to have friends her own age, so when she left she ‘didn’t know how to behave, socially … I’d meet people and they’d ask me questions, “What have you been doing?” or “What did you do after school?” I couldn’t answer those sorts of questions. I felt very withdrawn, socially. I’ve always felt alone. I still do’.
Krista developed a drug addiction that’s ‘under control for the time being’. She suffered from nightmares and depression. ‘I attempted suicide when I was with Luke. And I’ve had suicidal thoughts on and off since then. I’m not going to act on it. I need to let you know that, but it’s just one of those things when life gets really tough and I think, “What can I do?”’
Over the years, Krista has taken a proactive approach to her mental health, seeking out counselling and connecting with support groups. She has raised two kids and is proud of them both, but said it was a bittersweet moment watching her daughter turn 14.
‘To me she’s such a beautiful-natured person. She’s very well-balanced and I know I’ve done a good job raising the children, but watching her through that age, when she was turning 14 and around about that age, and just thinking, “My gosh, look at her. I was her age when that was all taken away from me”.’