A tragic story of the life-changing impact of child sexual abuse has been related in a Western Australia Court where a woman has been jailed for killing her newborn baby 25 years ago when she was 14.
The woman gave birth alone to the boy in a toilet cubicle at a caravan park in the Goldfields town of Kambalda, 600 kilometres east of Perth in July 1995, according to a special ABC report.
She told police she was abused by her stepfather from when she was about 10 and this had continued on a regular basis, even after the pregnancy, until she was about 16 when she left home.
DNA tests confirmed the stepfather was the baby’s father.
He was subsequently charged with child sexual abuse, plead guilty, and is due to be sentenced later this year.
The Perth Children’s Court was told the baby had started crying, so the woman stuffed toilet paper in his mouth to keep him quiet, but the baby suffocated.
She left the baby’s body in the toilet bowl covered by paper and went to another toilet block where she cleaned herself up before returning to the caravan where she was staying with relatives.
Investigators named him “Rijul”, which means “innocent” in Hindi, and he was buried in the Kalgoorlie cemetery at a service attended by about 50 people.
For the next 24 years the woman kept secret what had happened, but last year her crime was revealed after she was arrested in the eastern states on another matter.
State prosecutor Robert Owen told the court the woman’s hand and fingerprints were taken, and when they were put into a national database, they matched those taken from the toilet cubicle in 1995.
DNA tests confirmed her to be the baby’s mother.
WA police flew interstate to interview her and in a video recorded interview, she admitted what she had done to the child.
Initially she told police she did not know the identity of baby’s father because she was “promiscuous” and had slept with 20 or 30 men.
But that was a lie, and later the woman revealed to detectives she was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.
The woman was originally charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of infanticide which the court heard was very unusual and had since been repealed.
Mr Owen described the case as “tragic”, saying while the woman was herself a victim of crime, “there was no greater vulnerable victim than a newborn child.”
The woman’s lawyer, Karen Farley SC, said the fact that the matter had come to light had “really been a relief” for her client.
Ms Farley said the woman was only 13 years old when she fell pregnant and at the time felt she “had no other option than to conceal the birth.”
“She felt she couldn’t tell anybody, that she would lose everything — that’s what was in her mind,” Ms Farley said.
As a result of what happened, the woman had suffered throughout her entire life, and relied on drugs and alcohol to cope with her anxiety and panic attacks, her lawyer said.
The court heard the woman is now in custody in another state on drugs charges, but Ms Farley said she was receiving a lot of support in jail and now realised she was a strong person who could function without taking substances.
Children’s Court president Hylton Quail said the pattern of the woman’s life “very much started at 13” when she was subjected to “persistent and regular sexual abuse”.
He said it “beggared belief” that no-one realised what was happening, saying the woman felt “invisible” to her family and in fear that if she told them what was happening she would be rejected.
Judge Quail said that “overwhelming fear and secrecy” continued right up until last year, when in her first interview with police, the woman continued to protect her stepfather by not admitting what had happened.
“What you said to police was seen through the prism of 25 years of memories re-lived … you were still concealing the truth rather than identify your stepfather who abused you.”
“There is no doubt the neglect, the sexual abuse, the pregnancy and the death shaped your whole life.”
The court heard in last year’s police interview the woman said “I wish I never did it. I wish I kept him”, and Judge Quail said she could suffer no greater punishment than she had inflicted on herself.
However, he told the woman her crime was very serious.
“Your act took the life of a healthy baby boy. You deliberately put toilet tissue in his mouth to stop him crying.”
“The loss of a human life is an offence of the upmost gravity.”
Judge Quail sentenced the woman to 16 months’ jail, but suspended the term for 12 months.
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