Betty Sue's story

‘There’s part of me inside that’s really pissed off and angry – why aren’t the Freemasons splattered all over the newspapers?’

Betty’s mother died soon after giving birth to Betty and Betty grew up living with relatives in regional Victoria. From a very young age, Betty was sexually abused by her uncle. He was a member of the local Freemasons and frequently, from the late 1950s through to the late 1960s, he would take her to be abused by three other men who were also members of the Freemasons. The abuse occurred at the local lodge.

In a written submission Betty gave the Royal Commission, she stated, ‘The abuse was sexual, physical and mental … Pornographic photos were taken which has left me extremely uncomfortable whenever photos are taken of me now … I can remember being passed to one person then another.

‘I kept running away from home. At one point the headmaster came and collected me … and I thought he was being kind at the time, he said, “You know I’m going to have to take you back home” … As a child I felt there was sympathy or regret that he’d have to do that but now as an adult I think, well, he should have done something.’

Betty was sent to the local GP because she experienced headaches and anxiety. The doctor prescribed her Valium and Mogadon. ‘For someone that young there was no investigation into why.’ Betty’s next door neighbour grew concerned about Betty’s welfare one day when she was being punished. ‘She came in and wanted to know why, what was wrong. I wanted to [tell her] but I couldn’t.’

Betty’s family were ‘not encouraged to talk about anything’. Her aunt washed Betty’s mouth out with soap. ‘I actually can’t remember what I said – but she washed my mouth out with Jex steel wool and soap. I think maybe I tried to say, I don’t know.’

Betty finds it difficult to remember her young years in a chronological and coherent way.

‘I have separated my memories into visual, smell, body feelings, and emotions but I have no memories of voice or sound … I … compartmentalised the events of my childhood so that I could cope with it … I just remember the gloves, the white gloves. One of them had the white gloves on all the time.’

The abuse by the four men continued until Betty reached puberty.

Betty had a child when she was in her early 20s. Her anxiety around being a parent was severe.

‘I was absolutely terrified that I would be an awful parent because I had no idea. I was thinking I’d probably end up doing what I’d been through or whatever, being nasty … I tell everybody that [my son] brought me up.’

Throughout her life Betty worked hard but found it difficult to stay in a job for a long period of time.

‘I’ve had more jobs than you can poke a stick at … It’s my mouth that usually gets me into trouble at work. I don’t keep it shut when things go wrong.’

She has been sexually harassed by employers, managers and fellow workers.

‘It’s like you had a neon sign on your face – “You’re a victim you can do it again” … If you had any self-confidence people wouldn’t take advantage of you.’

A direct result of her abuse is that Betty has always been hypervigilant around children, not just her own, and has to speak up when she sees either adults or children acting sexually inappropriately. She wishes that someone had done the same for her when she was a child.

‘I make mistakes. And I do get embarrassed when I do make mistakes but I prefer to make the mistake than not.’

Her mental health is fragile and she has been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Betty has attempted to take her life many times.

‘I have used the idea of suicide as a relief, a way out and I think I was about six when I first tried to commit suicide.’

Betty went back to university to study a creative arts degree but found the course confronting, especially around the subject of sexualised depictions of children in artworks.

‘Bill Henson [the artist, came up] and the attitude of people in the art world about using kids [in art] … Sometimes I withdraw and hide and other times … I’m a little bull terrier and I don’t give up and I made the mistake of speaking out … but I just can’t believe their attitude – “It’s okay, it’s art” … Most of the time I feel like I’m a square peg in a round hole.’

Some years ago Betty contacted the police to seek advice on whether the photos the men took of her might still ‘be circulating around’. The police were unhelpful and Betty was ‘crushed’. She has no trust in authority or in institutions and hopes that the Royal Commission can ‘make a difference … and I want that difference to be maintained’.

‘One of the things I would like to see come out of this is guidelines for any groups, whether it’s faith-based or whether its education-based or just purely entertainment … it should be by law that they have to make their staff aware of things to pick up on.’

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