Alana’s fondness for her uncle, James, made the abuse so much more confusing.
‘I loved that man. It was a very confusing situation. He was our father figure, and he was so funny and beautiful, and he would bring food for us, because Mum was on a single pension so we never had any money.’
Uncle James was the ‘golden boy’ of the family, welcomed into Alana’s home in regional New South Wales not just because he was her uncle but also because he was a Christian Brother.
He first began abusing Alana in the mid-1970s when she was seven years old. James’ usual habit was to penetrate Alana with his finger and sometimes get her to masturbate him. This continued for many years, during which time he also abused Alana’s siblings.
Usually this happened in Alana’s home, but sometimes James would abuse her and the other kids at a Christian Brother’s retreat centre where the family often went for holidays. It was there that Alana, at 15, stood up to her uncle. He came into the shower with her and tried to touch her. ‘I just said “No!”, and that was the end of it. He never touched me again.’
In the wake of the abuse Alana became hyper-sexualised and promiscuous. ‘I was sexually active at 16, and I think part of that was because I believed that pleasing men involved sex.’
But by her early 20s she ‘settled right down’ and married her boyfriend, Tom. They’ve been together ever since. With his support, Alana decided to commence the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing redress process in the early 2010s.
The process turned out to be a traumatic ordeal. Alana arrived at her first meeting alone, having been told that it was just an opportunity for the Towards Healing representative to provide a general outline of what might be involved. But after a brief introduction, the representative suggested that they might as well launch the full, official process right now.
So, with no warning or support, Alana had to tell a complete stranger all the graphic details of her story. She then had to go over the story twice more – once, so that the woman could record it, and then again when Alana was asked to review her statement.
Alana left the session in such distress that she later attempted suicide. ‘Because everything had come to the front that’s been buried for however many years and my brain just went “The only way I can protect you is you need to take these tablets”.’
Later, after she’d recovered a little, Alana settled her claim against the Church for $40,000. She knew it wasn’t enough but by then she didn’t have the strength to negotiate. Something inside her had broken.
‘Life has always been hard work for me. Living, getting up every day, doing what I’m supposed to do, has always been hard. And that’s been fine. You know, life’s hard sometimes. Shit happens, whatever. But since the suicide, something’s gone. That drive. There’s something not there anymore – that drive to push, push, push myself to be a good person, to be a good wife, to be a good mother. It’s gone. It’s just gone.’
The hardest part, Alana said, is letting go of the guilt. Unlike many survivors of child sexual abuse, she doesn’t feel guilty about what Uncle James did to her. ‘For me’, she said, ‘the guilt is not being the person I think I should be, because I can’t cope.’
She also feels guilty that she didn’t do enough to protect her siblings from Uncle James. And on top of all that, she feels guilty that she can’t work and support her family financially.
What keeps her going despite these burdens is counselling, medication, supportive siblings, her own strength, and Tom. ‘He’s my rock. I always tell everyone he’s my rock.’