Danielle came to the Commission to speak about the sexual abuse she’d experienced as a child and to speak also for her brother, Clint, who died when he was in his 50s.
Danielle and Clint grew up in a large Catholic family and near their home in country Victoria was a television station where children were invited to participate in a weekly program. Danielle can’t remember the exact dates when she was abused but thought it happened in the 1960s when she was seven, eight or nine years old.
Denis Owen, one of the staff at the television station starting buying Danielle lollies and paying her special attention. He eventually isolated her from her friends and took her to bushland where he’d sexually abuse her. ‘Where he used to take me was a creek’, Danielle said. ‘And it had big bulrushes and things and he always had his camera.’ She thought the abuse took place over a period of about six months. It stopped when her family moved house and she no longer went on the program.
Danielle said one of the effects of the abuse was to turn her into ‘a liar’.
‘I had to be secretive, I had to lie. I had to pretend everything was all right if I saw him at the studio, 'cause I couldn’t stop going because my friends were going and they’d say, “Come on, are you coming? We got to go”. And I had to pretend I didn’t know him. I know I was getting red-faced, I was getting embarrassed. But once we moved it was a relief it was far enough away he couldn’t do anything anymore.’
At the time the abuse was occurring Danielle didn’t think of telling her parents. In the early 2000s she reported Owen to Victoria Police but because she couldn’t remember dates and specific details she was told there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges. The impetus for her contacting police was that she’d returned to the area after many years absence and found Owen working in a position with proximity to children. She put the matter aside until the mid-2010s when she again went to police, this time after discovering Owen had an online business that potentially had even greater access to children. Again, police told her there wasn’t enough evidence to take the matter further.
Danielle told the Commissioner she also wanted to speak for her brother Clint who’d been abused as a 10-year-old altar boy by one of the visiting priests at their local church. Clint disclosed the abuse to Danielle when they were children, but would say only that the priest had touched him. He then started going to a youth group and Danielle thought it likely he’d been abused by a priest there who was later found to be ‘notorious’ as an abuser.
Clint tried to say he didn’t want to go back to youth group. ‘My parents are saying, “You have to go back because it’s good for you to be there”. Clint tried to tell my dad. Dad turned around and clapped him, just knocked him out. He said, “You can’t talk about a priest like that”. So they didn’t believe him.’
She saw her brother change a great deal so he was no longer ‘the most happy, outgoing, crazy, larrikin’.
‘He cried a lot. He stopped playing sport. He used to be big in sport at primary school, but he just kept more to himself after that. He’d hang out with a couple of guys that he trusted and they used to get into trouble.’ At 14 or 15, Clint was sent to a youth detention centre and when he came out was ‘a completely different guy’.
He became a loner as an adult, Danielle said. ‘If he wasn’t working, he was drinking.’ He didn’t trust anyone and had few relationships with women.
Danielle told her daughter and one other sibling about Clint’s abuse. Her daughter, now an adult, said that ‘it explains a lot’ about how different Clint was to the rest of his siblings. Danielle’s sister told her she had to tell his story at the Royal Commission because there was no one else to do so.
She hadn’t approached the Catholic Church about Clint’s abuse, nor the television station about her own, because she didn’t see the point in doing so. She hoped that if other people had been sexually abused by Owen that they’d go to police so criminal charges could be brought against him.
Growing up, it had been common knowledge amongst the children that various priests were to be avoided. Warnings were given that if this priest or that sent for you, it was better not to go. Danielle couldn’t understand how the adults around them couldn’t’ have known what was going on or asked questions or if they suspected something, how they could have ignored it.
‘Do you know what? It’s a bloody relief. It is. Just to know that somebody’s listening and that something is going to be done to protect children from now on. And hopefully the perpetrators in the Catholic Church have to be accountable for what they’ve done and take ownership of the destruction of kids’ lives and people’s lives.
‘Because it doesn’t only affect the ones that were abused; it affects their families as well. My family’s been probably fortunate in not knowing but I think they would have treated Clint differently. I don’t know. My big brother probably would have. He would have treated Clint totally differently if he’d known. So I haven’t told him. It’s not necessary.’