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Claira's story

‘It was a fatherly attention that he was giving to me. He said that I was a sad child. I do remember not liking being alone with him.’

Claira was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints faith. Her family was very religious and attended church every week, and in the early 1980s when Claira was six, they moved to a new area and joined the local congregation.

Shortly after arriving, Claira was taken to the church toilets by three older boys who forced her to perform oral sex on them. She was very confused and never told anyone about what happened, and didn’t go near them again. She doesn’t know their names or how old they were.

At church, Claira’s parents became close with Mr and Mrs Daniels. Mr Daniels was a senior member of the congregation and was well respected. Claira remembers feeling very shy when he told her that she was pretty.

Daniels also had a role at the local school, and offered to give Claira and her parents a tour of the place.

While her parents walked ahead, Daniels suddenly pulled Claira aside and tongue kissed her. ‘In my mind it went on forever, but it probably was only a minute or two.’ Claira didn’t tell anyone about what Daniels had done.

Although the children enrolled in a different school, Daniels became a regular visitor to their home. He babysat the children and often came for dinner with his wife.

Daniels was babysitting one night when Claira was seven years old, and while the other children slept, he took her into the kitchen and gave her a drink.

After she finished the drink, ‘He asked, “Did you want to go and sleep in my bed?”… A short time afterwards he came into the bedroom and got into the bed. He lay on top of me and the last memory I have was his hands wrapped around my underwear’.

Claira never told her parents about this incident, but she kept doing her best to avoid Daniels. However, he always found a way to be near her or at the house.

The abuse continued for four years. Claira said whenever Daniels got the chance he led her away from her family or from friends to kiss her. She wanted to say something to her parents but because they were good friends with Daniels, she felt she couldn’t.

In the mid-1980s when she was 11, Daniels stopped contact with Claira. She doesn’t remember why.

The following year Claira’s school held a ‘stranger danger’ course that was conducted by police officers. It was then that Claira started to think again about her contact with Daniels, and this motivated her to speak privately to one of the officers. She was encouraged to tell her parents and then come back to the police.

Claira disclosed the abuse to her parents that night. She said it was very difficult because she didn’t think that they would believe her. Her parents then took her to speak to the leader of the congregation.

‘He looked like he was going to do something about it … [However] he wasn’t in his position for much longer, he was extradited from the church … There was a rumour that he had broken confidentiality … It was implied that it was about my situation.’

Daniels, when confronted, denied that he’d abused Claira and said that she was flirting with him. At the time Claira had no idea what that meant but she was upset. She went to a female elder of the congregation for help, but found that the elder believed Daniels rather than her.

The church did nothing and Daniel stayed in his senior position. Claira’s parents maintained their friendship with Daniels and for some reason, Claira’s father became extremely violent towards her. ‘On one occasion he became quite enraged and he strangled me, my mother just stood there.’

When Claira was 15, she was removed from her parents and placed in a foster home.

Still in her teens, she married her boyfriend and moved to a different town and congregation. After five years, Claira separated from her husband and had a ‘nervous breakdown’.

Claira remained upset with the way the church disregarded her reports of the abuse. She didn’t ever finish her education, and her relationship with her family remains severely strained. She finds it difficult to trust people, especially males in authority at her church.

When she was in her 30s, Claira arranged a mediated meeting with Daniels and several church elders. She wanted to try and forgive him, but was upset when he admitted only to once kissing her. She also learnt that Daniels had been nominated for a more senior role within the church.

‘They wanted clarification if I was going to vote against him [for a higher position].’

Claira described feeling great conflict between her love for the church and her desire to seek justice for what happened to her. She hasn’t contacted the police nor applied for compensation. She’s worried that if she did report Daniels her family would be distressed.

‘I love my church and it does a lot of good in the world. But I’m feeling that the leadership are doing some damage as well. I feel quite damaged.’

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