Candice was seven years old when she lost her grandfather in the mid-1970s, and not long after this her dad also passed away. She had been living with them and her grandmother in Sydney’s south west, after having been removed from her abusive mother as an infant.
She attended the local Catholic school, and the parish priest Father Agostini was very popular with the children there.
‘He used to always play with us in the playground ... He was always with the kids, so he was always playing with us. So we actually loved him to death, we thought he was the greatest priest around, ‘cause he got down to our level.’
Father Agostini consoled the family through their bereavement, and Candice remembers sitting on his lap the day she learned of her father’s death.
One day shortly after she had returned to school, the priest called her out of class to ask how she was doing. She was crying and upset and he comforted her, saying that he could be her ‘Father father’. He took her into an office and said he knew what would make her feel better – ‘that I used to love dressing up and getting my photo taken’.
Father Agostini gave Candice a red and white ‘princess’ costume to wear, and ran his hands down her breasts, bottom and vulva while helping her change into it. ‘I felt uncomfortable as my nan was the only person who dressed me, and she never did it that way.’ Her underwear was eventually removed, as he claimed it made the outfit ‘bunchy’.
He then asked Candice to do cartwheels and handstands as he took polaroid photos of her, letting her keep one. ‘I felt a bit better as I looked pretty in the dress, as I was often picked on for being fat and I was not getting any attention at home due to everyone’s grief.’ She changed back into her uniform and returned to class.
From the age of eight Candice was admitted to psychiatric facilities on a number of occasions. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 12, and prescribed medication. Around this time she started using marijuana and cocaine, and began injecting heroin soon after. Spending most of her time on the streets, she survived by stealing, stripping, and doing sex work. She described her behaviour as ’uncontrollable’, and knows she ’put my grandmother through hell’.
In her mid-teens Candice was raped by a man she was living with, and conceived a child. She did not report this rape to police.
Candice was married at an early age. Her husband was abusive, then she became involved ‘with an alcoholic, so that wasn’t going to go very far’. Her next long-term relationship turned violent – ‘I ended up with men that weren’t good men’. After this relationship ended she had a breakdown, while living at a domestic violence shelter, and ‘ended up back in the mental hospital’.
As an adult Candice has nightmares about Father Agostini, and also her grandfather, and is disturbed by fragments of memories from around this time. She has recently started speaking about the abuse she experienced as a child, and has received some sexual assault counselling.
Candice has never reported Father Agostini to police, but understands that he has been charged with sex offences against a number of other children. She told the Commissioner that she has a distrust of authority, the legal system and particularly the police and is not sure how she would handle any sort of prosecution or witness process.
Describing herself as ‘spiritual, but not religious’, her beliefs give her comfort. She also pursues a number of creative projects, including music, and has won awards for her artwork.