• The mother of the allegedly sexually abused toddler from Tennant Creek has spoken out. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
The mother of the toddler who was sexually abused in Tennant Creek speaks out for the first time, exclusively to NITV's The Point.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

The Point
14 Jun 2018 - 12:30 PM  UPDATED 14 Jun 2018 - 6:40 PM

As the sun sets on a winter afternoon in an Adelaide suburb, a mother contemplates all that she has been through over the past few months.

For Rose* this city symbolises hope - a new beginning for her and her young family, after the horrific rape of her two-year-old girl in the small Northern Territory town of Tennant Creek.   

“I have a nice place here, it’s a nice neighbourhood, and I just want to live here and live with my children and give my children what they need," Rose told The Point.

In February, Rose's two-year-old daughter was raped in Tennant Creek. The toddler sustained horrific injuries, requiring surgery and a blood transfusion. She also tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease.

Following the incident, the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner released an Own Initiative Investigation Report into the incident.

The report states that since 2002, the family had been involved in 35 recorded incidents of domestic violence, eight aggravated assault convictions against the other parent, more than 150 recorded interactions with police, and 52 child protection notifications – which included allegations of domestic and sexual abuse.

All 14 of the recommendations of the report were accepted by the Northern Territory Government, triggering an overhaul of the state’s child protection.

However, Rose told The Point she rejects what has been reported about her in the media, labelling negative statements as assumptions about her and her life.

"Just don't go talking about my life, and putting my picture up, painting me as a bad mother. I'm not a bad mother, I'm a good mother. I worry about my children and their safety, and I love and care about them," she said.

We can't talk about the events of that night for legal reasons, but Rose insists that it wasn't her fault and that she's been unfairly portrayed.

"The media's blaming me, putting my face up, saying that I'm an alcoholic, but I'm not. I'm a social drinker. I look after my children and my family," Rose said.

"The media said that my house was a party house, but it wasn't. We didn't drink there much. It's just that some people would come past and sit down with their alcohol in my yard because they weren't allowed to go and drink outside of town."

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Alcohol restrictions in communities such as Tennant Creek came into place in 2007 under the Howard Government with the Northern Territory National Emergency Response.

Also known as the Northern Territory Intervention, it was called after reports of 'rampant' child sex abuse and domestic violence.

But as someone with lived experience, Rose sees the alcohol restrictions as more of a problem than a solution. She believes things could have been different for her family if they didn't exist.

“That's when they loaded up houses, townhouses with alcoholics,” Rose said.

She said that people used to go out bush to drink, but the restrictions mean people need to drink at a house with a permit.

“They can't drink outside of town because it's restricted and they have to have [an] address and have ID to help get alcohol and drink it at the house,” she explained.

“This (her daughter’s rape) could have been avoided if people were allowed to drink everywhere, out of town.”

Northern Territory Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne said that alcohol is still a problem in Tennant Creek, but said she would like to see further restrictions, not less.

“All you’ve got to do is take a look since they’ve turned the tap off. Since the alcohol restrictions have come in, there’s less presentations at the hospital, there’s less violence, crime has gone down, it’s a different town,” she said.

“Alcohol is a significant problem in the Northern Territory, and we need to seriously consider further restrictions to other areas of the Northern Territory.”

The report also said that Rose's children "regularly sought safety and regularly self-placed with different extended family to avoid returning to the care of P1 who was often intoxicated or impacted upon by the effect of family violence".

But Rose refutes this claim; explaining she and her children waited nine years for housing.

"Me and my children were homeless. And my side, I thought it was better for my children to stay with my family so I can wait for my house in Tennant Creek. If not they'd get me off the list and give the house to another person," Rose said.

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Gerry Georgatos from the National Indigenous Critical Response Service (NICRS) has worked with Rose since the incident occurred, as well as with others in the Tennant Creek community in the past.

He believes that families in the dysfunctional town are not receiving the support they need.

"I can't say much other than the mother and youngest children now have an opportunity at improved life circumstances. Authentic hope and aspirations [were] denied to them in their impoverished homeland community in Tennant Creek," Mr Georgatos said.

"The relocation to Adelaide and the support from the NICRS and others supporting the family has been vital. They didn't have this support availed to them when they needed [it] during the years living in and near Tennant Creek.

"The neglect of this family in [their] time in Tennant Creek is like a writing on the wall explanation of all that's wrong with Northern Territory governments and institutions forever failing the vulnerable."

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Rose said prior to the incident she had asked for help, but no one would help her.

“There’s no help there. I asked for help, but nobody wanted to help me. They only got me the house, they helped me for the house, after that they didn’t want to help me then,” Rose said.

“I wanted them to help me with [a] washing machine, or a fridge. Also find activities for me to do, for my children, but I had no one - no one to help me.”

The Children's Commissioner said her investigation found that there are plenty of services in Tennant Creek, the problem is they were not working together effectively.

“What we found through the Tennant Creek investigation was a lack of coordination. The services are certainly there, at times they co-located, they’re very close to each other in proximity," she explained.

“The coordination just really wasn’t there. So information was flowing to the service providers about this particular family that we focused on, but there wasn’t any broader analysis of the information to give a true picture of the risks for this particular family.”

Ms Gwynne also said that the Government's support for families can only go so far.

“Certainly we need to be supporting parents, but there comes a time where we have to make this hard decision,” Ms Gwynne said.

“If the parents are making decisions that aren't in the best interests of their children, then the children need to be removed.”

Since relocating to Adelaide, Rose’s two-year-old daughter and her other young child have been removed from her care by the South Australian Department of Child Protection.

Despite what is written in the Commissioner’s report, Rose said that they were removed because she missed a curfew imposed by the Department.

“It's not fair. My kids come with the trauma from the Northern Territory, they come to South Australia, they get more trauma, but I just hope they come back to me soon,” she said.

Rose acknowledged that she has made mistakes in the past, but argued that she moved to Adelaide to give her children a better chance at life.

To have her children taken away from her at such a critical time has greatly affected her.

“I'm worried about my kids, I don’t know who they're with, and I just feel hurt. I hurt every day. I know my other children, they're okay because they're with my family,” she said.

“I don't know what's happening to them, and I'm just worried every day.”

Rose said the support system she has received since relocating has been vital for her during this time. She has made a new circle of friends, but it's been South Australian Support Officer Rachael Schmerl from the NICRS who has helped her through it all.

"She helps me out. She talks to me, she cries with me, she holds me tight, she prays for me," she said.

"I think she's the best support I have and I reckon all the families in the Northern Territory should have support like that to help them out when they're down with children problems."

Ms Schmerl said she has made herself available to Rose 24/7, and she has witnessed her strength and resilience throughout the ordeal.

"The work that I've done with Rose just shows that through all of this she is still fighting through those challenges and has the strength, and the support that I've been able to give her has been just being there while she goes through and discusses what's best for her and moving forward," Ms Schmerl said.

"The challenges that Rose has faced, to be able to hear her story, and hear her journey has been different to what has been put out there within the public arena."

Rose has asked that the media respectfully not continue to use photos of her daughter, manipulated or otherwise.

"Stop putting pictures up and give her some dignity," she said.

*Name has been changed for legal reasons

See the full story on The Point - 8.30pm Thursday on NITV, and live-streamed via NITV's Facebook page.