The state government has been ordered to pay three sisters nearly $800,000 in compensation after they were sexually abused by a foster child who was living in their home.
The three women – now aged 27, 26 and 23 – were under 18 when the abuse occurred in their Cairns home between January and May 2006.
They claimed the foster child, a well-built 14-year-old Indigenous boy, had come into their bedrooms at night. In some cases they alleged he inappropriately touched them and masturbated in front of them.
In a complicated legal case that took more than four years to resolve, the Cairns District Court heard the foster child was taken into the care of the family in December 2005 while he was being prosecuted for raping the three-year-old daughter of his former foster carer.
The boy had a longstanding relationship with the sisters’ mother, known as HIC, having stayed with the family in previous years.
The court heard numerous carers and shelters struggled to manage the boy’s behaviour after the rape allegations, and several times he would travel to HIC’s home.
HIC and her husband knew the boy was troubled but argued the Department of Child Safety did not tell them about medical reports that revealed the full extent of the boy’s tendencies to commit sexual offences.
The state defended the case, arguing they had assessed the risk to the sisters before placing the boy with the family. They also believed HIC would have implemented “proper safety measures” for her teenage daughters.
The state also blamed the first and second victims because they did not lock their bedroom doors or tell their mother of the abuse.
Judge Brian Harrison ruled that the Department of Child Safety had breached its duty of care to the victims.
“The officers of DOCS knew the history of the foster child, knew of the risks associated with placing him in a household where there were teenage girls present, knew of the need for counselling and/or sex education which had not been provided and knew of the naivety of the [HIC] and her husband in relation to such risk,” he said
Judge Harrison said the family had “effectively torn itself apart” as a result of the incidents, with several family members no longer speaking to each other.
The court heard each victim suffered mental health issues as a result of the abuse.
One of the sisters claimed she continued to suffer nightmares, PTSD and anxiety, while another developed depression.
The judge ordered compensation payments of $320,091 to the oldest victim, $90,746 to the middle woman and $386,058 to the youngest. The payments factored in past suffering, future economic loss and ongoing medical costs.
A state government claim against HIC was dismissed.