Darrelle still cannot believe that Father Rowland, the priest who sexually abused her in the 1960s, was never suspected of child abuse at the time. Her Catholic family ‘lived and breathed the Church’, and her mother would invite nuns and priests around for gatherings.
Rowland was always a welcome guest and became a close confidant to not only Darrelle’s family, but many others as well. She remembers him having a key to one of the family’s homes.
Darrelle was 10 years old when Rowland specially selected her and a handful of other girls from her Catholic primary school in suburban Newcastle – and sexually abused them for the next year.
‘Our group was an elitist group in the school, we were all academic, we were all sporty. It’s like he picked the best of the best. The families were the best of the best, they were all hard working Catholic families.’
This abuse would happen in his car when he drove the girls home from school. Darrelle believes Rowland abused her at least 12 times.
‘He used to pull up to the front of our house and my dad walked up the hallway that afternoon. [Rowland] was touching me in the most private places in the front seat of his car while my father was just standing there. Dad waved and [Rowland] said “wave to him” and I waved to him. As a father why wouldn’t you think “why are they sitting there?”’
The abuse ceased when Darrelle moved to a public school. As a child she felt guilt and shame and always felt responsible for what Rowland had done to her.
Her father died not long after the abuse by Rowland ceased, and she felt that through his death God was punishing her for what she allowed Rowland to do. This sense of responsibility is something she has since recognised as not true, but ‘the child in her’ still believes she had some part in the bad things that happened to her and her family.
The first time Darrelle revealed the abuse was to her friend and fellow victim, Frankie, when they were 14 years old. In a game of truth or dare, Darrelle asked Frankie about Rowland.
‘She asked “what did he do?” and I told her what he did to me. She said “well he never got that far with me”. She virtually pushed his hand away. Even when I went to the counsellor that was the thing that broke me down the most because all I had to do was push him out of the way.
‘He never tried with her, she was always put in the back seat. That’s all it would have taken, to push him away.’
Despite feeling relieved that she was not the only girl Rowland abused, Darrelle entered a ‘destructive’ path of her adolescent life and was involved with drugs, drinking and sex. She believed that she was bad and her choices reflected her view of herself.
When she mentioned her abuse to her mother when she was 17, her mother said ‘you know what you’re like’, and this made it hard for Darrelle.
It was when she fell pregnant at 19 years old that Darrelle decided to turn her life around. She describes the birth of her first born as her saviour ‘from self-destructing’.
Becoming a parent made her incredibly aware of paedophiles and she involved herself in every aspect of the church and schools her children attended. She would invite all the teachers over for dinner and that continued on when her children attended high school.
‘There was never a teacher I wouldn’t know about.’
Darrelle did not open up about the abuse until she was well into her 40s. She confided in a nun she knew, Sister Rowena, who sat there and insisted that she ‘forgive, forget and move on’ since it happened ‘so many years ago’.
This reply was extremely hurtful to Darrelle as she could not understand the Sister’s lack of empathy for a traumatic experience. She has since lost faith in the Catholic Church, although not in God.
Darrelle never went to the police to report Rowland and she said that it was her ‘biggest regret’ since she learned he continued to abuse many more children after her and her friends.
She did, however, get in touch with Towards Healing and received $50,000 in compensation and an apology from the bishop. She now sees this apology as inadequate due to the fact nothing was done about Rowland despite multiple complaints on file.
‘I have survived with a strong sense of purpose and hope that institutions, like the Catholic Church, will be made accountable. Those involved in covering up will be prosecuted, and victims like myself won’t be pitied, but given access to every assistance in care to get them to a better state of mind.’