Britta’s parents migrated to Australia from Europe at the end of Word War II. After Britta was born they moved to a small town in South Australia where Britta attended a Catholic school. The school stood beside a little church where a priest named Father Desmond lived.
From age eight to 12, Britta was sexually abused by Desmond. She told the Commissioner that she could never remember going to the priest’s house, only ending up there. She said he often took her away with him on overnight trips.
Britta didn’t report the abuse to anyone. She said this was partly because she’d never been educated about sex and didn’t realise that what was happening to her wasn’t normal.
‘I thought that he was doing it to all the children. I didn’t feel especially sought out. I assumed that he was doing it to others … It was almost like, “You have to go to school” – no good saying to Mum I don’t want to go to school. And this all just seemed part of it, somehow.’
But even if it had occurred to Britta to speak out, her home life made it impossible. Britta’s father was an extremely violent and physically abusive man. At one point his outbursts got so bad that Britta’s mother made up her mind to escape with the children. Sadly, she made the mistake of asking Desmond for help. He immediately contacted Britta’s father.
‘My father just went totally berserk. He just went off his brain. Everything was smashed in the house. He just went on all night, and we were all crying and praying and hoping that Mum was okay.’
Britta came home from school the next day to see her mother being taken away in an ambulance. ‘And she was never okay after that.’
Sometime later Britta found herself alone with Desmond. It was the last time he ever abused her.
‘He came through in the night and I shouted “No” and I remember he was just like, “Sssssh”. And it was such a surprise and then he left. And I’m still shocked to this day, that that’s all it took. I can’t believe it. That’s all it took. I could have done that at eight.’
Britta said that as she grew older she made a number of ‘poor life choices’. When one dysfunctional relationship ended in her late 20s she went straight into another. ‘He was very bad, sort of sexually, using me. But that’s what I think – I made those choices, I mistook that kind of treatment for some sort of affection.’
During this time, Britta sought counselling to help her through some of her problems but never mentioned Desmond or the sexual abuse. She simply pushed it aside and tried not to think about it. Then, as she got older, things started to trigger bad memories.
‘My daughter, when she started high school, they had short black socks. And I remember seeing her bare legs in the short black socks, and it was really weird, I was so shocked. And I realise it was from being in the bed and – I always closed my eyes – but seeing Desmond’s white legs and his black socks.’
More flashbacks followed. ‘I didn’t know how to stop it’, Britta said. There was one occasion when she saw a priest waiting in line at the airport. ‘I was so filled with horror, I just couldn’t stand there. I felt such evil, like as if I’d seen the Ku Klux Klan get up in front of me … That’s when I realised I needed help.’
She rang the Catholic Church and asked what she could do. The man on the phone was ‘unsympathetic’ and told her that she would have to provide a detailed written account of what had happened to her. Britta said, ‘I couldn’t. I just couldn’t’.
Britta never went back to the Church, but in time she was able to talk more openly about the abuse to others. Over the years she has discussed it with several people, including her mother and sister.
Britta said she struggled to summon the courage to tell her story to the Royal Commission. Eventually she came forward: firstly, because she was reassured by the fact that ‘people have been believed’, and secondly, because she wanted to do something for Desmond’s other victims.
‘And maybe they’re not up to coming, but if they did, here’s corroboration that this same man did it to me. If that helps.’