‘How does a man, a senior manager, get away with it when you’ve got another six or eight or 10 staff on the floor at the time and none of them are willing to speak up? They had to know there were things going on that shouldn’t be.’
Bethany was the oldest child in her family in 1960s Tasmania. Their father had left the family home and their mother had health problems. Bethany would do the shopping, pay the bills and accompany her mother to appointments. She took on a parent and protector role from an early age.
The abuse took place at a nearby youth centre. Don Riley was a supervisor there. Bethany remembers him as a big, intimidating middle-aged man. Riley took Bethany to various locations alone, without supervision or monitoring of any kind.
Under the guise of having her help him with jobs at the local youth centre and at other sites, Riley sexually abused Bethany for four and a half years.
Always fearful that he would hurt Frances, ‘my blond-haired blue-eyed little sister’, Bethany could not tell anyone and simply went along with it. In keeping with her role at the time she considered herself to be protecting her siblings, particularly as Riley told her that if she rejected his advances, ‘I’m sure Frances would like to have a cuddle with me. She is so soft’.
‘Who can you tell?’ Bethany asked the Commissioner. ‘I’ve been the protector, the guide, the rescuer all my life for everyone else.’
Bethany believes bad nerves and stress stemming from the abuse and her role shielding the family have caused her chronic stomach problems, which later required surgery. She wishes her family doctor had taken the trouble to ask what was happening in her life to make her so sick all the time.
‘If he had asked me straight out, “Do you feel uncomfortable with something that anybody is doing to you in any way?” I’m sure at the time, thinking back, that I would’ve told doctor about it.’
Bethany believes that she was hyper-vigilant as a child and later as a parent, and suffered from poor self-esteem as a result of her abuse. During adolescence, she had no social life and her family life remained fractured.
It was many years before Bethany disclosed her experiences to anyone. She has worked within the Anglican Church and found stability and strength in her faith. She still encounters ignorance about the impacts of historic abuse.
‘The number of people who say, even within the Church, “This issue was 30 years ago, 40 years ago. Why are they even remembering it now?” It impacts your whole life. And people don’t have any idea. … Even if it only happened once it impacts, let alone for four and a half years.’
Bethany eventually confided in her sister and her husband. Her first visits to a counsellor were not successful. The ‘Christian counsellor’ suggested she had a responsibility in the ‘sinning’ as a child because she didn’t have respect for her father – who had himself been abusive.
‘You think if that’s going to be the outcome, why bother? It makes it worse than if you’d never told them in the first place.’
Bethany realised her own past could help her understand and assist other parishioners who are struggling with abuse of their own. She had wanted to spare her mother the pain of learning about her childhood trauma, but with her mother’s death Bethany felt ready to talk.
Bethany regrets that Don Riley is now dead. She would take criminal action against him if he were alive. She supports the work of the Royal Commission and as a Christian it is her hope and prayer that there will be improvements across the board which will keep children safe in the future.
Bethany believes there has been progress in the last 10 years. ‘The improvement in the protocols, the training, the expectations. Running youth groups the accountability is just so practical as well as sensible. … When you look at the whole history, not only of the Church but of all the groups, scouts or anything, so many issues have been swept under the carpet and totally ignored. That can’t and should never happen again.’