Tyra has been told her mother became pregnant with her after being raped by a family member. She thinks the story is probably true.
‘It would explain why my mum hates me so much and tells so many lies about me.’
Tyra’s mum has been tough on her throughout her life. She recalled many episodes of abuse and neglect, by her mother and also her mother’s various partners. Her first memory is of being bashed by one her mum’s boyfriends. As a six or seven-year-old, in the mid-1980s, Tyra was molested by the teenage son of another of her mother’s boyfriends.
A little later, when Tyra was seven or eight, she and her mum moved to a caravan park in a Melbourne suburb. The caretaker there sexually abused Tyra for several years.
‘He told me he loved me. And this was a 56-year-old man saying this to an 11-year-old girl. I went to my mum and I told her and she told me to stop fucking lying’, Tyra told the Commissioner.
‘If a child’s not believed, and it’s belittled, it fucks your whole life up.’
When Tyra was 14, she moved to Perth to live with her grandfather. Her mother followed soon after. ‘I thought it would be a fresh start’, Tyra said. But her mother’s abuse continued. At high school one day Tyra self-harmed, and was sent to the school nurse. The nurse referred Tyra to hospital, where was she was seen by a psychiatrist.
‘My mum was furious. ‘“How dare the school override my authority, send you there without my permission” – because everything’s always about her.’
The psychiatrist recommended Tyra participate in a group activity, and through a friend she was introduced to cadets. This involved regular sessions one night a week, weekend camps and an annual week-long camp.
The first time she went along to a meeting she was recently out of hospital. The officers in charge knew her story and knew she was vulnerable. But they seemed oblivious when over time one of the instructors, Ian Kolkinios, singled her out.
‘He just started paying extra attention to me, and telling me I was pretty, and special, you know – all the normal stuff.’
He was grooming her, she said – ‘And I fell for it, because of the way my mother had treated me my whole life’.
At an overnight camp, ‘I woke up in the middle of the night with him kissing the back of my neck and trying to insert his fingers into my vagina’. It took her back to what had happened with the caretaker. ‘I just froze’, she said.
Not long afterwards, Kolkinios had sex with Tyra. He was in his late 20s, she thinks. She was 14. It happened often after that, usually at his place when Tyra truanted from school and Kolkinios’s partner was out. Kolkinios told Tyra it was important to keep what was happening a secret. He said people wouldn’t understand, and that as her cadet instructor he might get into trouble. ‘All the lines’, Tyra said.
For a while, Tyra didn’t think of the relationship as abusive. ‘I craved attention and affection because I never got that at home from Mum. I was scared but I also thought I was in love.’ But soon after she turned 15 she started to see it differently.
‘I realised I had been sucked in again and it was wrong.’
When she ended the relationship, Kolkinios basically accepted it. Tyra made other changes in her life. She left her mum’s place and moved in with another family, and went from there to a church-run facility. She ‘became a child prostitute for a while’, and at 16 entered an abusive relationship.
‘That lasted for 11 months, until the night he tried to kill me.’
She never had help from any government services. She first reported her abuse as a 17-year-old, to a hospital psychiatrist who was treating her for self-harming, drug use, depression, panic disorder and complex PTSD. She can’t remember what, if any, action was taken as a result: ‘They didn’t suggest I go to police – no one did’.
After that, she kept it to herself for many years.
‘At the time, who’s going to believe a 14-year-old psych patient? And later on, you know, a prostitute, a drug addict and still a psychiatric patient. No one’s going to believe me.’
Tyra has been on a disability pension since the early 2000s. Other than sex work, and work experience when she was at school, she has never had a job. She described her life as ‘shit’. It’s only the medication she’s been taking since she was first prescribed it as a 17-year-old that’s kept her going, she said.
In the late 2000s, she caught a taxi one night and the driver sexually assaulted her. Reporting the attack to police triggered disclosure of the abuse by Kolkinios, and led to a referral to the child sex abuse unit. Tyra spent four hours giving a statement to a police officer there.
‘It was very difficult, because it was the first time I’d had to describe in explicit detail what had happened’, she said. ‘Through it I kept saying, “I know people like this do not stop at one victim” …
'After I’d given my statement, that’s when they told me they were already investigating him on almost identical charges. I was horrified, and then I felt guilty because I didn’t report it sooner.’
Tyra was in court to see Kolkinios tried and convicted on the charges relating to the other victim. It was a difficult emotional experience for her and she spoke positively of the support she received from court staff. The charges arising from her own abuse were ultimately dropped; she doesn’t really know why.
‘I was devastated … that it wasn’t going ahead’, she told the Commissioner. ‘The police were amazing. The DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] put me through hell.’
Tyra is estranged from her mother and other family members. She said the only social contact she has is with an elderly friend, who was in hospital at the time of Tyra’s visit to the Commission.
‘Once he dies I don’t know how much longer I will last – because after he goes I’ve got nothing’, she said.