‘I’m not a person that really cries. I mean, so much has just happened to me in my life. I remember when I was three and a half years old I had been sexually and emotionally assaulted. It started with my dad. He would come home, in those days the hotels shut at six, so he’d come home quite drunk, usually on a Friday night or a Saturday night, and he’d strip off down to his underwear.’
During the years Beverley was being sexually abused by her father she remembers her mother saying to her, ‘While he’s doing this to you, he’s not hurting me’.
As well as familial abuse, Beverley was sexually abused by others throughout her childhood, including a nun, two priests, a man in a house where she was sent to live, and a stranger at the beach.
Beverley was in late primary school in the early 1960s when the priest in her southern Sydney parish began touching her ‘private parts’. The abuse occurred in various locations around the school and in the priest’s car when he’d drive her home from school.
Beverley came to believe he ‘selected’ her because he knew about her home life. ‘He seemed to get kids who were vulnerable’, she said.
After the eventual breakdown of her parents’ marriage in the mid-1960s, Beverley and her siblings spent time in different children’s homes. Beverley was in her early teens when she was sent to a home in Sydney run by the Sisters of Charity. While there she was sexually abused by one of the nuns, Sister Mary Therese, who came to her bed several times and after telling Beverley to remove her pyjamas, ‘put her fingers inside my vagina’.
Beverley described ‘feeling pain whilst she was doing this’, and recalled ‘questioning whether what she was doing was right’. Each time after the abuse, Sister Mary Therese hit Beverley ‘with a stick, similar to a long ruler’.
In her mid-teens, Beverley left the home and returned to live with her mother. She’d not been there long before her mother died. Following her mother’s death, the family was further dispersed and Beverley and her sister were sent to live with an aunt ‘who didn’t want us’. The aunt ‘got rid’ of Beverley: ‘put me on the street just with my bag’.
At that point someone advised Beverley to ‘go to the parish priest and he’ll help you out’. After finding accommodation for Beverley with a local family, the priest would often come to the house and ‘barge in’ to Beverley’s room and sexually abuse her. ‘The people were there but they just thought nothing of it, because he’s a priest.’
The abuse also occurred at the presbytery. ‘The amount of times that he assaulted me in so many different ways’, Beverley said. ‘I don’t have to go into them, do I?’
The priest told her that no one would believe her if she tried to speak about the abuse.
‘The place that he actually did send me to, the couple who basically were maybe in their mid-40s, I received it off him too. I mean you know, I wasn’t safe in the orphanage, I wasn’t safe with this priest.
‘To tell you the truth, my thinking was all men are like that … Just going to the beach, I mean in the waves a man … put his hand in my swimmers. I thought it was an accident, being a stupid little 10-year-old, but he did it again. It was no accident. I raced out of the water up to Mum.’
The priest who’d been abusing Beverley performed her marriage rites. ‘He said to me, “I didn’t think you’d wear white”. I always remembered that, ‘cause after I got married he never touched me.’
In the late 1990s, Beverley applied to the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. She met with a representative and gave details of the abuse by Sister Mary Therese, but she ‘couldn’t do the priest’.
‘When I started to tell her what this nun did to me – I only spoke about the nun – she said, “A Catholic nun would not do that to you”. And she said, “And you’ve got to take into consideration that her mother is dying”. And I thought, what’s that got to do with it? I said, “Well my mum died at 16. At least she got to have a mum for a good while”.’
At the end of the process Beverley received $55,000. ‘They wrote a letter of apology sort of thing, but I couldn’t even understand a word of it, the way they wrote it.’
Beverley experienced further sexual abuse in her marriage. That her children had been ‘emotionally abused’ by their father still deeply distressed her. She had never disclosed the childhood abuse she’d experienced to her husband or children.
At one stage in her life, she’d had ‘a breakdown’ and ‘half slashed my wrist’. In therapy, she had spoken with a psychologist about the abuse, but had found doing so very difficult.
‘How can you tell people? It’d be too much to tell someone. I had one good friend I did tell some of it to but no, basically I kept it to myself except for [the psychologist]. I was ashamed. All these emotions, I was just ashamed, and what would they think of me?’
The abuse she spoke about in her session with the Royal Commission was, she said, ‘the tip of the iceberg’.
‘The physical hurt and the emotional pain from my father and from that nun and from that priest and then the other priest when I was in primary school is enormous. I just think it’s kind of like a big secret that I’ve got to keep.’
If anything was to change, Beverley said, she hoped it would be the making of ‘a better justice system’ for children.
‘There’s kids still slipping through the system you know, and you hear about it and my heart breaks for those kids. And I think we should have some sort of remembrance day for, you know, people that were in my situation. And it’s ongoing. It will always be ongoing, maybe not to the extent that it was, but maybe in some ways it still is.’