Bev was born into a large family of staunch Catholics in the 1960s. Both her mother and her father suffered at the time with mental illness and struggled as parents. Bev attended a Catholic college in Melbourne which was run by an order of nuns. Father John Hughes was attached to the school and the parish, and gave religious instruction classes.
When she was 11, Bev was invited to join Father Hughes and up to 15 other girls in his rooms for what became a regular abusive ritual. The girls would stand in a line and Hughes would hand out religious medallions to each of them.
‘We’d all be in his room and he’d go from girl to girl and kiss her with his mouth and put his hands up our dresses and things like that’, Bev told the Commissioner. ‘It happened quite systematically and I was quite naive. I had no idea.’
These assaults were repeated many times. Rumours must have spread and eventually reached the main office. ‘After a few months the headmistress, her name was Mother Rosemary, she called me into her rooms and she said, “Is Father Hughes doing anything to you?”’
Bev told the Commissioner, ‘As an 11-year-old I didn’t have the words …
‘I said, “I’ll show you”. And I lifted up my dress and started to pull down my pants and she went absolutely ballistic at me. She said that I was making it up, that I was wicked, that I was going to go to hell and I got in trouble. That’s when I got sent home - because I was “bad” and I shouldn’t have said that about the priest.’
After that, the situation worsened. Bev’s mother invited Father Hughes into their home. He became embedded in the family and began an affair with Bev’s mother, which her father knew about.
‘I don’t blame anyone now because I’ve forgiven everyone, but I can see that Dad was unwell at the time.’
Hughes had previously abused Bev’s sisters as well but now he singled out Bev for attention in the family home. He would lie on top of her and kiss and grope her. This happened in front of Bev’s parents and siblings.
When they were alone, Father Hughes would perform oral sex on Bev and penetrate her digitally. ‘I’ve got certain images in my mind that I can’t get rid of, but I’ve learnt to live with it. There are certain things that I didn’t even understand what was happening.
‘He used to get me to masturbate him until he’d ejaculate on me. I didn’t even understand what it was.’
Bev endured two years of abuse from Father Hughes. When she was 13 Bev told him to stop touching her. Hughes stopped coming to the house. ‘My mother was very angry with me but I didn’t care.’
Ten years after the abuse Bev confronted her mother about it. She responded by saying, ‘I was sexually abused and the same thing happened to me, so I don’t know what you’re worried about’.
Bev got on with her life by ‘shutting the book’ on her childhood ordeal. ‘I think I’m just really lucky that I am a very strong person, but I’ve had to work really hard, especially with the flashes of things, of what happened … Even as I’m talking about it I can see his face in my mind’s eye.’
Bev has dealt with many lifelong impacts of the abuse. ‘From an early age I was very vulnerable. I used to be promiscuous.’ Eventually she married, but has made a conscious decision not to bring children into the world.
‘I thought if I didn’t have children no one could get them.’
Bev has left the Catholic Church and rejects organised religion, but has maintained a spiritual side of her life.
‘I’ve got certain beliefs – a belief in forgiveness.’
That forgiveness does not extend to the Church as an organisation.