When Alison was 13, she and her mother finally escaped from Alison’s physically and verbally abusive stepfather. Unfortunately their worries were far from over. Alison’s mum suddenly found herself a single parent with a low income while Alison, worn down by years of abuse, suffered a crippling lack of self-confidence.
One day while walking home she was approached by a man named Jeff Rollins. He explained that he was the leader of a Christian youth program that operated out of a nearby Melbourne suburb. He asked Alison if she’d like to come along. Alison said yes.
Rollins’ church provided the community support that Alison had been longing for and she soon became an avid member. She also developed a strong relationship with Rollins, whom she saw as a friend and confidant. Looking back now, she can see that Rollins had a different view of the relationship.
‘I was so vulnerable after my alcoholic stepfather left, and now I can see that he preyed on those vulnerabilities and that he knew that I had no self-esteem, and he would say all the right things to make me feel better about myself.’
Alison began spending time with Rollins at his house. During these visits he would kiss her on the mouth. This went on for some months and over that time Alison developed an affection for Rollins. She felt special and came to believe that they were ‘in a relationship’.
Excited and eager to chat about her experiences, Alison mentioned this relationship to some friends one night at a sleepover. She was shocked by their disapproving reactions. ‘I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it at that time. And that’s when it got out and it spread through the whole church.’
Alison was vilified – ‘bullied on the trains by people from the church, and screamed and yelled at’. She came home one day and found Rollins and his wife sitting in her lounge room, talking to her mum. Rollins told Alison’s mum that Alison had been spreading lies about him. Alison’s mum believed him.
Ostracised from her mother, her church and her friends, Alison couldn’t concentrate, lost all interest in school and began to question the one steadfast thing she had in her life: her faith. The abuse, she said, ‘made me question whether I was believing in God or believing in what he was saying about God’.
In her late teens and early adulthood Alison formed relationships with older men, confused love with sex and blamed herself for anything that went wrong in life. All this while she never connected her pain back to Rollins. She did not blame him and did not believe that he’d done anything wrong. Then one day, many years after the abuse, she saw a talk-show segment about women who had suffered child sexual abuse.
‘This one lady got up and basically was like pretty much my story, and said when I was the age when it was happening I thought that we were in a relationship and that I was in love with him and he was in love with me. And she was the same age as me. And they said that it was wrong. And I realised. It kind of all clicked in my head that I was 12, 13, 14, whatever the exact age; that I was a child. Just because I thought I was a grownup in my eyes, that I wasn’t and it was wrong.’
Alison kept this realisation to herself. She couldn’t tell anyone, not even her partner. Alison believes that this contributed to the breakdown of their relationship.
‘I didn’t tell him about the abuse, and basically pushed him away, in the physical and emotional side of it. And it was only until he left that I started to tell him about it and things like that. And he got frustrated and wanted to know why I didn’t tell him sooner and wanted to know why I didn’t trust him enough to tell him.’
Alison is still on good terms with her ex-partner and she’s tried to explain to him why she couldn’t tell him about the abuse.
‘In my statement I shared that the person who abused me came to my house with his wife and sat my mother down and told her what was going on. And the fact that she believed everything that he said rather than what I said made the whole trusting someone and opening up to someone difficult, because I’d been let down by someone that’s meant to have your back and meant to be there for you. So he kind of understands that side of it but his argument is that he’s not my mother, that he’s different, and he’s the father of my children.’
Alison has been seeing a counsellor to help her through the marriage breakup. Recently she’s started to tell the counsellor about the abuse as well, and she said this has been very helpful for her.
Meanwhile, as far as Alison knows, Rollins is still a member of the church and still working with children. This was part of the reason why she came to the Royal Commission: to report Rollins and ensure that no other children have to go through what she went through.