When Carole returned from a trip overseas in the late 1990s, her father told her on the drive home from the airport that her sister, Louise, had disclosed that she’d been sexually abused as a child by family friend, Father Warren Salisbury. When her father asked her if she too had been abused, Carole answered, ‘No’.
‘I’m not quite sure, I just couldn’t say it’, Carole said. ‘It was just I guess, so kind of, almost like a wanting to check way that he asked me. I’m sure he wanted the answer to be no. I can’t imagine in that situation you’d want anything else. I couldn’t say anything after that.’
Although she knew ‘on a gut level’ her answer wasn’t true, Carole struggled to acknowledge the truth that she had also been abused by Salisbury. Throughout adolescence and young adulthood she’d ‘blocked the memory’ as she struggled with feelings of being an outsider and reacting with distress if a boy or man tried to get close to her. She feared the dark and often had nightmares. Episodic attempts at therapy hadn’t been very helpful and for years she’d been on anti-depressants.
Carole told the Commissioner that she felt her successful career had been part of a facade built up since childhood. Her job necessitated working closely with a wide range of people and the energy involved in maintaining the appearance she was coping and managing well left her feeling exhausted. Memories of the abuse by Salisbury were like ‘watching flashes of a film’, but as the images became clearer she recalled the abuse occurring during a camping trip with the priest and her siblings.
While they were camping, Salisbury called Carole into his tent and asked her to ‘play a game’. He lay naked on his back covered with a towel and told Carole the game was a ‘treasure hunt’ with the treasure hidden somewhere on his body. Then he took her hand and directed it onto his penis. ‘I recall the towel sliding away completely, his heavy breathing, and a small smile on his lips which still makes my stomach churn when I think about it’, she said.
Not wanting to do what she was being asked, Carole said she felt trapped and thought she couldn’t refuse. Afterwards she felt ‘dirty’, but had no words for what had happened and didn’t tell anyone.
In the late 2000s, Carole’s sister disclosed the abuse she experienced at the hands of Salisbury to the Catholic Church and a meeting was arranged at the family home between Church representatives and Carole’s parents and sister. As the meeting was about to start, Carole telephoned the house and disclosed to her father that she too had been abused by Salisbury.
‘I’m not even exactly sure what I said on that call’, she said, ‘because I couldn’t form the words, but eventually I was able to say that Father Salisbury had hurt me too.’
Following her disclosure, several counselling sessions were organised and paid for by the Catholic Church. Carole said the counsellor was ‘nice enough’ and they had some ‘interesting conversations about personality types and things like that’, but she didn’t tell him details or feel that she could be honest with him.
In the early 2010s, Carole started having difficulties at work. This, combined with other stressful events, led to her taking more than the recommended dose of her prescribed anti-depressants. She went to hospital but convinced hospital staff the overdose had been an error and she was discharged. However, the experience frightened her and she made the decision to transition off all medications.
When Carole heard about the Royal Commission she decided it was time to tell the truth of the sexual abuse. She said that after contacting the Commission, things ‘snowballed’.
During the early 2010s, she met representatives of the Catholic Church and received an ex-gratia payment of $210,000 including $60,000 in legal and Medicare costs. The amount was the same as that paid to Louise and because, by that time Salisbury had admitted abusing both girls, Carole’s account of events wasn’t contested. The Church also agreed to pay for counselling with no time limit defined. At the time of speaking with the Royal Commission, Carole had also made a statement to New South Wales Police and criminal charges against Salisbury were being pursued. In a meeting with the Archbishop of Sydney, he congratulated Carole for reporting Salisbury to police. ‘He said something like, “It’s a public service”. So that was interesting.’
After decades of distancing herself from the Catholic Church, Carole said she’d recently started going to church again. ‘Obviously all of this stuff was still happening in the background but in the end it was distinguishing between individuals – in any large community you’re going to have individuals who do the wrong thing – versus a faith and a religion. The faith I don’t think I ever really lost, so for me it was about coming back to a religion. So it was really just about reaching that point of, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’