Danni's story

Danni’s father was a minister and missionary, and the family moved around a lot as he spread the word of the Church. In the early 1980s they were living in Queensland, and Danni’s older sister was married to another minister, Leon Dreller.

Dreller would give Danni gifts and massages, and try to engage her in sexually explicit conversations.

‘You’re very innocent at 15 and 16, you don’t know anything much about the world and the way it works, especially when you’ve been protected in a religion. And so you’re keen to please, eager to please, in a healthy way. And you want to get on with people, and he was like a youth minister so he had a lot of access to a lot of young girls and would make them, you know, his buddies and that sort of thing.

‘You know, lots of stirring and mucking around which is all okay, on the surface ... but then it becomes something else and that’s the part that you realise – or you start to realise that this is not the fun and games that you thought it was.’

One night, when her sister and brother-in-law were visiting, Danni woke up to find Dreller in her room, digitally penetrating her. He ran out of the room, and she immediately told her sister.

‘Because of our religion, my sister absolutely freaked out and said, “Don’t you dare tell anybody” because, you know, there’s a lot at stake, and left … packed him up in the car and left.

‘And that’s where it’s all under the carpet, isn’t it, because there are careers to be lost, there are reputations at stake, and the [Church] is very small and an “everyone knows everything about everyone” sort of Church.’

Danni said her behaviour changed straight away. She became very rebellious, ‘angry, lots of anger, rage, fury, but I couldn’t have articulated that then. You can only articulate it later when you’ve had your journey with rage and anger and fury’.

She also started to pull away from her faith. ‘I still had to go to church, I was forced to go to church, but I would ask questions and be a real stirrer and be quite disruptive and get kicked out of things. And quite enjoyed that for a while and then just completely left them.’

Her sister’s marriage broke up a few years later, after Danni’s husband caught Dreller having sex with an underage girl from his congregation. Danni said her sister tried to tell the Church but ‘nobody really listened to her’.

‘Her marriage was breaking down, her life was in ruins, everything that she’d been groomed for, to be a minister’s wife and all that sort of shit had just, you know, gone. And you don’t let go of that easily when you’ve been brought up in it all your life. All of my parents’ expectations were heavy on her. I chucked ‘em off but my sister did not.’

Around this time, Danni’s parents came to know that she had been sexually abused by Dreller. Neither incident was ever reported to police.

However, as she spoke with the Commissioner, Danni realised that Dreller might still be working with, and a danger to, children. She was given information about the free legal service, knowmore, and was going to think about making a formal statement.

Danni also described two lasting impacts of the abuse. The first, like so many survivors, was trust. Even after having ‘a lot of counselling’, she said, her trust issues still reappear, even with her husband.

‘I hate that it does but it does. And the man I’ve married is a wonderful man and very worthy of trust and my daughters’ trust and everybody’s trust, and that’s wonderful, and he hasn’t deserved some of the mistrust that I have given him in the past.’

The second impact Danni described as ‘a gift’.

‘I have brought my daughters up to be militant about watching, saying no, you know, whenever they would go and play anywhere, watch any uncles or any friends or whatever that come over … to be aware, from a very young age, that there is men that are wonderfully trustful and there are men that are not and you have got to know the difference and trust your gut feeling and be really intuitive.

‘And thankfully, I’m very certain that they’ve never had any of this to contend with themselves, which is just wonderful. And that’s very healing for me as a mother and very empowering … I was belted for saying no as a young girl, so I told my kids it’s okay to say no, it’s healthy, it’s good and they’re very assertive girls and women and I’m very proud of them and proud of myself for that.’

She was equally passionate about her recommendation for the Royal Commission.

‘They need a handbook, all churches need a handbook of how to deal with this when it’s happened and they need to be accountable to government, I think … they need a policy … a clear, transparent, informed by this sort of current research policy … and not just move the guy to Perth or move the guy to some other place or whatever … it needs to comply with the law of the land and it needs to be transparent for everyone to see.

‘They need to get rid of this idea that they’re above the law.’

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