Larissa was born in the late 1980s and happily lived with her grandmother and aunt for years. Then her mother was awarded custody and took the eight-year-old to live in what Larissa described as ‘a house of horrors’. While her younger brother was well treated, Larissa was subjected to numerous assaults by her mother and stepfather, including being stabbed, burnt, beaten, and ‘treated like a slave’. Her grandfather laughingly called her ‘Cinderella’. Larissa was sexually abused by her stepfather, an uncle and several different boarders staying in the house.
In 2000, it became known that Larissa was being physically and sexually abused and she was removed from school and placed in emergency foster care. She found the experience frightening as she was questioned by police, South Australian Family Services and the school counsellor at the same time as her mother verbally abused her. A succession of temporary and permanent foster placements followed until at 13, Larissa was placed into the care of an older woman for whom she had a lot of respect. ‘No matter how much crap I gave her or I threw at her, she still stuck around.’ Larissa often slept on the woman’s bedroom floor because she was petrified of someone coming and hurting her.
‘I was bashing myself up. I was pretty traumatised by the time I even got there. She got me medicated for wetting the bed, I was still wetting the bed.’
As part of the permanent care arrangement, Larissa was occasionally sent to another woman’s home for respite care. Mrs Hawkins lived alone and cared for several girls. Her son, Donald, was a regular visitor to the house and would transport the children to and from school and take them on outings, where he would abuse them. Larissa knew he was assaulting at least one of the other girls, because she saw it. ‘He always gave us money, alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana. Whatever we wanted, it was given to us.’
Hawkins was reported to police when a girl visiting the house told her parents that Hawkins had attempted to molest her. South Australia Police interviewed all the girls and Larissa disclosed that she had been sexually abused by Hawkins for a period of a year. They asked her what she wanted to do and she replied that he should be given a warning. Her statement when she later saw it documented her as saying: ‘There is no point in making a statement given that people usually believe adults and children are not believed’.
Larissa told the Commissioner that the years of abuse in the family home and with Hawkins caused terrible feelings later.
‘I’ve got chronic depression, panic attacks and anxiety. I can’t handle public places … like I’ve been bulimic, I’ve been anorexic, I’ve tried committing suicide so many times. Pretty much, my head is my worst enemy, to say the least.’
She described a habit she had of dissociating and this put feelings of distance between her and her long-term partner, as well as the elder of her daughters.
‘I force myself to stay … in the relationship, not because I don’t love him but I disattach myself. I don’t trust people how I should and he knows I care for him, but there’s times where I’m just like, “Leave me the hell alone, don’t go near me”. And he’s probably a really decent guy who has stuck through pretty much everything I’ve thrown at him. I’d be the worst person in the world and he still would stay and that makes me upset, that he stays, knowing that he might be able to get something that is more better or someone that can give him 110 per cent.’
An attempt by Larissa to take legal action against the South Australian government for the abuse by Donald Hawkins was thwarted when she was erroneously advised that because it was a civil matter she’d have to bear legal costs and could end up being charged herself for bringing the matter to court. ‘I’m just like, “Whoa, I didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I be charged?” So no matter what angle I have tried, I can’t get anyone to take responsibility for their actions.’
She remains hopeful about pursuing counselling options even though she hasn’t had success thus far. ‘I want to heal. I want help. I want to not be who I am. I want to be happy and not scared. I don’t want to have to fear if I’m alone, what is going to happen. Like my girls suffer because of my trauma that I’ve experienced.’