April came to tell the Commissioner about the child sexual abuse that has occurred to generations within her family.
In the mid 1950s, when April was about eight or nine, she was abused by a visiting Brother at the church connected to her Melbourne primary school. She and another child would sit in the presbytery garden and eat their lunch most days. One day her friend wasn’t at school.
‘I went over and had my lunch over there … this guy [a Brother], comes over and he was so nice and everything else, and then I froze when he started to interfere with me. After, he told me I had to come back the next day and I was too scared not to.’
April told the head nun of the school. ‘I got into lots of trouble over that. That’s when I told Mum.’ Her mother didn’t believe her either, and dismissed her allegation. April remembers being scared of the senior priest at the time too. ‘He had this really loud, bombastic sort of manner about him, so I was always scared of him – and I really think Mum was too.'
But April still finds it surprising that her mother rejected her claim so easily because later, she told April that she had been sexually abused by a relative for many years, and ‘she knew those sorts of situations’.
The abuse happened a second time and then April stopped going to the garden for lunch. Nothing came of her report of the abuse.
Decades later, when April’s children were keen on joining the cubs and scouts, she volunteered and became a leader. During one scout job week, she and her husband took their son to the local caravan park to help the manager with some of the maintenance work. When the jobs were finished, the manager praised their work.
‘This guy, the manager, turned around and said, “You’ve done such a good job, we’d like James to come back each week”.’
April and her husband thought the work would help James save some pocket money. The next weekend they dropped James off and left him in the care of the man. The man sexually abused him. James was nine.
It wasn’t until many years later that James told his parents what had happened to him. ‘Because we took James there and Dad was, “G’day mate, how are you?” James thought the manager was his best friend and that we were approving … James felt that we were taking him down there to … ’
James began to act out, and his behaviour became erratic and difficult to manage. The abuse continued for some time.
When James was 16, his parents suggested he join the defence force. At 16 though, he couldn’t leave the base by himself. A senior officer, also a Catholic, arranged sponsor houses for James so he could leave for weekends. The senior officer began to sexually abuse James regularly on weekends.
‘Every weekend they had a thing at one house or the other, and then [the senior officer] would go off in a room with the boys … he had his smorgasbord. [The officer would] give James grog and all sorts of things. Anyway, James felt confident to tell him what happened to him – and he consoled James by raping him.’
The man later attempted to groom April’s other male children. The man has since been convicted and jailed for child sexual offences but April believes the sentence was too light.
In the 2000s James was convicted of sexual offences against a minor in his custody. April knows now that James ‘was playing me on a couple of things’. When James told her about the event, she doubted his story.
‘The way I heard it from James was that he woke up with her climbing on the bed with him, naked. I said, “She was still a child, you were the adult”. You know, it doesn’t matter what the situation was – that was what it was … He forced himself on her.’
In sentencing James, there was no reference made to his experiences of grooming and sexual abuse at a young age.
‘It sent his brain up the wrong way … With James, when the guy at the caravan park got to him, he convinced him that that’s what boys do.’
Because of James’s experiences and behaviour, April has had to think about her own experience of sexual abuse. ‘All this with James has made me think on that. I think I’ve come to terms with it pretty well … a lot of it was forgotten until all this happened.’
But April knows there were significant impacts on her confidence and her ability to trust others. She even doubted whether she should come and speak with the Commissioner. ‘I nearly hesitated about even coming with mine.'
She has never thought about applying for compensation from the Catholic Church, ‘because I didn’t know the guy’s name’. After speaking with the Commissioner she is going to contact Knowmore, the free legal service, to investigate compensation for the abuse.