In the mid-1970s, when she was six weeks old, Opal was adopted by Don and Debbie Tucker in Adelaide. For the first 16 years of her life she endured physical, emotional and then sexual abuse, first at the hands of the Tucker family, then the Baker family, who fostered her, then again from the Tucker family.
‘I don’t actually have any happy memories until I was maybe seven or eight … I just remember that my life was not good.’
Debbie Tucker was the cause of most of Opal’s early misery, putting soap in her anus to make her go to the toilet, locking her in the bathroom and standing her in the corner of the laundry for hours. Opal sometimes had to drink out of the toilet because she couldn’t ask for a drink of water.
A neighbour saw Debbie spray five-year-old Opal with the garden hose for wetting her pants, and then start beating her with the hose when Opal wouldn’t stand still. The Tuckers were reported to the South Australian Department of Families and Communities for neglect and Opal was fostered by Ian and Mavis Baker.
The Bakers had some adopted kids already, as well as a biological son called Barney. Barney started sexually abusing Opal when she was eight or nine years old. This happened more than a dozen times over the next three months until Mavis Baker intervened.
A year later it was Opal’s foster father, Ian Baker, who started abusing her. He’d come in while Opal was in the bath and tell her he needed to wash his hands. He’d use the bath water ‘so that he could save money’ then drop the soap and fondle her genitals while he pretended to look for it. He also fondled Opal when the rest of the family were out, and masturbated on top of her.
A new foster sister was sometimes forced by Ian into playing sexual games with him and Opal.
Opal had been writing letters, which were vetted by the department, to her adoptive family the Tuckers. When she was 13, sick of being sexually abused by her foster father, Opal called Debbie Tucker. She didn’t mention the sexual abuse to Debbie but was eventually sent back to the Tuckers permanently. On the day Opal left, Mavis Baker gave her five dollars and told her not to come back.
For a few weeks things were fine and Debbie Tucker was happy to have her back. Then Don Tucker, who knew from Opal herself about Ian Baker’s sexual abuse, began abusing her as well. And he did so ‘pretty much every night’. He’d force Opal to masturbate him in her bedroom or in the shower and then reward her with food from the local service station.
Debbie grew hostile. She excluded Opal from family outings, as well as school sports and excursions. ‘She didn’t want some little rent-a-friend showing up her own children as far as being more academic and more athletic.’
Instead, Opal had to go to the library or be supervised by teachers. One teacher asked her why. Because ‘my mother’s a crazy mad cow’, she told him.
Debbie also beat her with a chain dog collar. Opal’s sure that her school teachers must have noticed the red marks on her skin. Certainly her friends at school carried her bag sometimes, because she couldn’t do it herself.
‘I’d stay away from her’, Debbie told one man who asked why Opal was sitting in the back of the car with the bags of dog meat, ‘she fucks husbands’.
When she was in Year 10, Opal told a school counsellor about the abuse and asked them to contact her social worker who, instead of getting her out of the Tuckers’ reach, placed her with Don’s sister. Don Tucker continued to abuse Opal by taking her for driving lessons and extorting sexual favours in return.
At 16, Opal moved in with her maternal grandmother. But Debbie Tucker rang Opal’s school, pretending to be her grandmother, and said Opal was no longer welcome at her house. Opal had to sit at school and wait for the social worker to drive her to her next, and final, foster home.
Opal reported Don Tucker and Ian and Barney Baker to police earlier this year. It took 18 hours to complete her statement.
The senior constable asked her why she didn’t just leave, or say something. Opal told him, ‘Dude, when you’re a kid and you’ve been brought up in this whole mindset that these things have happened for a reason, and you can’t change that, and you’re just going to have to deal with it … you just do’.
Opal finds it very hard to form close, healthy relationships and is trying to work out how she can explain her own childhood to her children. She does tell her kids to talk to her about anything at all.
She was always made to believe that she deserved all the abuse – that she was ‘just the foster child’. As Opal wrote in her statement to the Commission, ‘I tend to blame myself for the sexual abuse and it makes me feel sick inside’. She dealt with the impact of the abuse by drinking and ‘getting shitfaced’.
After she started counselling, Opal realised she’s not a bad person. ‘For such a long time I was apologising all the time for things that were not even my fault. And I’m at that point where I can say, “Well no, I’m a strong, independent woman and you can stick it in your bum if you don’t like it”.’