Audrey’s legs still bear the scars of burns she said were inflicted by a nun for telling authorities she was being sexually abused by priests.
In the mid-1950s, Audrey was seven when she and her younger sister became wards of the state. They were placed in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns in regional Victoria.
Audrey told the Commissioner that priests regularly visited the orphanage and she became a target for sexual abuse.
‘The first time it happened a priest took me into the space behind one of the statues and touched me. After that he’d make lightly veiled threats towards my sister like, “Your sister’s becoming a pretty little girl, isn’t she?” I was always terrified for her. Even at that age, I knew he was breaking the law somehow.’
The abuse became ‘more intrusive’ over time, and Audrey reported it to at least three nuns.
‘I’d be in the hallway hysterical, petrified. I told the Mother Superior and she called me a terrible liar and belted me, then started slapping me across the face making me say it didn’t happen over and over. One of the nuns would sometimes hide me when I was running away from a priest, so they must have known what was happening.’
Audrey told the Commissioner she ran away several times to tell local police what was happening at the home, but would inevitably end up back at the orphanage.
‘The Mother Superior would say, “Oh this one’s got a great imagination”. I’d hold onto their legs begging them not to leave me there, but the nuns were so highly regarded, the police didn’t believe a word I said. Other times I’d knock on doors of random houses and ask if I could live with the family. I’d tell them I would be very good and help them around their home, but they’d always call the police and back I’d go.’
Unable to stop being abused herself, Audrey fought to protect her younger sister from the priests.
‘I was always terrified for her, she was only five.’ Audrey believes the nuns enabled the priests to sexually abuse her and others, as she said they would often send her to priests for ‘instruction’ on her own.
‘All the while they’d be giving me internal examinations. I was always bleeding and scratching, and they’d tell me they were checking for worms. I was given tablets and told they were for my itch, and they said I was bleeding because I had a bladder infection.’
‘I’d been brought back by police and the Mother Superior burnt me. After that I didn’t speak to anyone about it.’
When Audrey began developing breasts, the nuns taped her chest.
‘I was about 11 or 12 and my breasts were large compared to the rest of me. Every night they’d pull the tape off. It was painful, embarrassing and sick.’
Around the same time, Audrey said she was removed from school and sent to work in the laundry.
By the time she left the orphanage at 18, Audrey was pregnant and after she gave birth, she was told her baby had been born prematurely and had died.
‘But then I had to sign some papers which I’m sure mentioned something about adoption so I’ve always wondered if I was told the truth.’
Later in life, painful memories surfaced and Audrey started drinking heavily.
Eventually she contacted the Catholic Church and attended an appointment where she was shown photographs of priests and asked to pick out those who’d abused her.
‘I wasn’t prepared for that psychologically, and I just said, “I can’t do it”. So they had me sign this and that and I ended up with about $15,000, but that wasn’t the point. I was waiting for someone to acknowledge they’d neglected their duty.’
Therapy over the years has helped Audrey, but she still sleeps on a ‘two-hourly alert system’ and blames the abuse for robbing her children of a loving upbringing.
‘My kids have suffered terribly, I was always waiting for someone to take them away from me and if they wanted a cuddle, I couldn’t do it.’