A Western Australian couple who beat their adopted daughter and forced her to sleep in a cold, dark shipping container have both been jailed for four years.
The pair, who cannot be named to protect the child’s identity, adopted her aged nine from the Philippines, where she had suffered trauma at the hands of her birth parents and at an orphanage.
The district court of WA heard that the latest abuse occurred when the girl was aged 10 to 12 at the couple’s semi-rural property on Perth’s outskirts, where she was neglected and suffered physical and emotional abuse.
For about three months during winter she was regularly forced to sleep with no bedding in an unlit shipping container, which she described as “freezing”.
She was locked in overnight and when the family went on outings, and learnt it was wise to go the toilet beforehand – but she had to do that outside.
The girl was repeatedly assaulted with hands and objects including a rubber hose and a tennis racquet, and was verbally abused and threatened.
“I want to kill you right now,” the woman said. “I’m so close to killing you. I want to shoot you and your head will go into 1,000 pieces.”
While another girl the couple had adopted from the Philippines slept in the house, went on outings and was allowed access to televisions and computers, she was not.
“We don’t want you coming ice skating with us. We have fun … you don’t deserve it,” the woman told her.
When she was allowed to sleep in the house, she didn’t have her own bedroom. She was made to eat and wash outside, ordered to run laps around the perimeter of the paddock, and made to do menial chores including weeding or moving rocks.
Neighbours testified seeing her sitting in bushes “very quietly” and standing alone in heavy rain up for to two hours at a time. “She was just standing there,” one testified. “It was raining, pelting.”
The girl went to school reeking of urine, wore tattered shoes and was seen at a bus stop without a jumper, looking cold.
The woman told her teachers she was disruptive, manipulative and would try to cause trouble but they described her as bright and keen to improve academically. The principal said the girl would be upset when she arrived at class, cheered up during the day then became anxious again.
“That’s because she was going home again to you,” Judge Alan Troy told the couple on Wednesday. “You must have known she was suffering.”
Troy said the girl was isolated and vulnerable, had already endured impoverishment and a “Dickensian” orphanage, and was bound to be troubled by the prolonged abuse.
He accepted that the pair, who previously fostered children, had made a valuable contribution to their community and churches before the offending, so it was “an appalling fall from grace”.
The couple, whom the girl referred to as Mum and Dad, must serve two years behind bars before being eligible for parole.