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Corrine Ellen's story

Corrine and her large Catholic family moved to Sydney in the early 1970s, when she was quite young. The family didn’t know many people, so they established a group of friends within their new church, including one of the religious Brothers who would often visit their home.

Corrine was sexually abused by Brother Douglas, but she blocked the incidents out for a long time. She thinks the abuse occurred somewhere between the ages of five and eight. ‘I find it fascinating that you can actually block all that away in a little box. I think that was a way of coping and I still find it confusing that I don’t have it all, that it’s not clear.’

Corrine told the Commissioner, ‘A lot of the memories are really vague with me, and that’s why I haven’t gone any further legally, but … I’ve had images as a child and then going into teenage years, started to question these images of a man in the bushes and … “Where are these images coming from?”, because it was like something from a pornographic movie … So it is all still quite a bit vague to me’.

The children used to go on bush walks with Brother Douglas and ‘he used to come to our house as well quite a lot, and occasionally mind us if Mum was too busy … So, in terms of access, he had quite a lot’.

Brother Douglas was also leader of the youth group, so he had plenty of opportunity to abuse older girls at the church.

‘As a teenage girl, we all felt uncomfortable around him … He used to flick bra straps and touch the odd girl and we’d all, you know, think it was revolting but nothing, no one went any further, than those sorts of thoughts … and I wasn’t aware of other people making complaints, but it turns out there were at that stage.’

Corrine was unaware that complaints had been made against Brother Douglas in the 1980s, but nothing much was done about them at that time. In the mid-1990s, a number of women came forward and reported being abused by Brother Douglas when they were younger.

When this occurred, Corrine’s mother asked her if she had been one of Brother Douglas’s victims. ‘Whilst wanting to deny the idea … I was swept with nausea … and my reconnection to the abuse … of over 20 years previously began to develop … The image of this person masturbating in the bushes … I could suddenly see a face on that man, so that’s how it came out.’

It wasn’t until the late 2000s that Brother Douglas was finally charged, but because of his age and ill health, the case never went ahead.

After disclosing her abuse, Corrine received an apology from Brother Douglas’s order, and they paid for her to have counselling. She told the Commissioner that she thought the way they handled it was acceptable.

The counselling has helped Corrine with a number of issues over the years. ‘Initially I think it was mainly about not being heard … and feeling there was no way I could change any of that … to understand that I couldn’t do any more at that stage, that I was a child, that it wasn’t my fault, and that was a really positive thing to do.’

Corrine was far less happy when she approached the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process, and eventually decided not to continue with it. The document she received from them, was ‘full of legal jargon, confusing and sterile in style, and offered no support or consideration for the victims. It came across as purely a process to minimise financial harm for the Catholic Church’.

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