Dora was sobbing when she came back to the playground at lunchtime. Father Blundell had raped her. It was the mid 1980s, and she was seven years old. Blundell was the chaplain at her Catholic school, in Sydney’s north-west.
The abuse happened in the presbytery next to the church, just across the road from the school. Dora isn’t sure how she came to be there. She remembers that Blundell undressed her, sat her on his lap, and assaulted her. Then he ordered her to ‘put your uniform back on, and get back to school’.
She doesn’t recall if she told anyone why she was crying when she returned, but some other children did ask what was wrong. Although upset and confused, and already an extremely shy child, she thinks it’s likely she mumbled something about what the priest had done.
Dora knows she told her brother, who was a couple of years older, when she got home. He did not believe her, and obstructed her from disclosing to her parents. Blundell did not abuse her again.
When Dora was 14, she was sexually assaulted by Mr Lennon, the religious studies and sex education teacher at her Catholic high school. Lennon asked her to meet him in the classroom one lunchtime to receive punishment for a misdemeanour. The room was in an isolated part of the school and there was no one else around.
Lennon told Dora she was beautiful, ‘and that if someone wants to have sex with you that means they love you’. He demanded that she perform fellatio on him. ‘I didn’t want to ... I was really confused. Because to me a penis was [for] going to the bathroom, and I didn’t understand. I thought it was demeaning, I just thought it was dirty.’
He said he was going to ‘teach’ her about her vagina, asking her to sit on the desk and take her underwear off. He then raped Dora and ejaculated all over the carpet.
Dora disclosed Lennon’s abuse to the school principal, Sister Barnaby, a few days later. Sister Barnaby told Dora she was making it up and that she would not be allowed out of her office until she admitted she was lying. Dora resisted this, but Barnaby became increasingly angry, and she realised she could not win. Dora did not tell anyone else, as Barnaby had threatened her with expulsion.
Lennon isolated Dora from her friends after he assaulted her, telling her classmates she was a ‘bad person’ and they were not allowed to talk to her. He also made her sit on her own, at the front of the class. She was friendless for months until the students forgot what Lennon had said.
This isolation made her feel that she had done something wrong, and that it was somehow her fault Lennon had assaulted her. ‘I was just thinking about what he did to me, and I couldn’t say it to any of my friends. It was just so shocking.’
Dora subsequently blocked out memories of the abuse by Blundell and Lennon. These memories have resurfaced only within the past couple of years, and she has since told her parents.
These incidents had significant impacts on Dora’s mental health, and she believes they also made her more susceptible to later emotional and sexual violence. She had a number of abusive relationships as an adult and experienced a further rape. ‘It made me vulnerable to certain types of people, who would take advantage of me. ... There was almost a different side to me.
‘My girlfriends would see me as a capable, normal person. And then there would be a private side. I wouldn’t tell them about what had happened, they would think that everything’s okay, and that I’m fine. But I was just deeply ashamed. I just didn’t understand why I just came up against incident after incident after incident.’
When she finally found herself in a loving relationship, she did not have the emotional health to sustain it. She has experienced PTSD and anxiety, and on several occasions was admitted to a mental health facility as an involuntary patient. For a while, she had a different job every year, and she still has trouble with male bosses and authority figures.
Dora recently reported the abuse by Lennon to police and the matter is still under investigation. Blundell died in the 1990s. Dora recommended that there be police stations located near every school and that officers be involved in delivering child education programs about various kinds of abuse. This would forge strong relationships between children and police, she said, thereby enabling children to feel safe reporting abuse to them.