Even today, more than 30 years after it happened, Elouise still finds herself minimising the abuse she suffered as a child. ‘It’s really hard,’ she said, ‘to actually change what you learn at five.’
Elouise turned five in the mid-1970s, around the time that she started kindergarten at a Catholic school in Sydney. One morning the teacher informed the class that they would all be having a check-up with a visiting nurse. Elouise didn’t like the idea and tried to protest but the teacher insisted, and soon Elouise was marched into the room and left alone with the nurse.
After getting Elouise to strip, the nurse put a hand into Elouise’s underwear and fondled her. Even at age five, Elouise knew this wasn’t right. When she got home she told her mother what had happened. The reply was casual, a quick sentence that Elouise’s mother probably forgot soon after she said it. Elouise, on the hand, has never forgotten.
‘Oh’, said Elouise’s mum, ‘She’s just doing her job’.
From that moment on, Elouise’s original instincts were overridden by a simple slogan: ‘the whole thing was normal’. Elouise maintained this view, unchallenged, until at 18 she idly mentioned the abuse to a friend.
Elouise was taken aback that her friend expressed shocked. When Elouise said, ‘Didn’t that happen to everyone?’ Her friend replied, ‘You bloody idiot. No’.
Blunt as the friend’s response was, it didn’t sink in. Elouise carried on with her life as per normal, not realising that the abuse was churning her up inside. She knew that there was something wrong but didn’t connect it to the abuse.
Many difficult years passed and then finally, after much counselling, Elouise was able to pinpoint the sexual abuse as ‘one of the core foundations’ of her emotional and psychological problems.
These problems include anxiety, depression and dysfunctional relationships.
‘Always in relationships I understood that I needed to be whatever they wanted me to be, and what I wanted didn’t matter, and what I thought didn’t matter. And as such I have actually put myself into some risky situations, and by the grace of God it hasn’t gone the way it could have gone.’
Recently Elouise engaged the services of a lawyer to help her raise some of her issues with the Catholic Church. The Church’s initial response was evasive and adversarial.
‘They were like, “Oh, she wasn’t employed by us. We have no records. We don’t know”. And in the end the thing I said to them was: “I was a five-year-old kid in the care of this school and this happened. You are responsible”.’
The only ray of rationality and compassion has come from the woman who heads up the child protection unit within the Catholic Education office. Elouise has been impressed with the woman’s empathy and commitment. Within days, the woman found records and tracked down the nurse’s full name, which Elouise then passed on to police. The police are now conducting an investigation.
Elouise is hoping the investigation will produce two outcomes: first, that the nurse will be prevented from harming any more children, and second that she, Elouise, might finally be free of the little five-year-old voice in her head.
‘In the back of my mind is still this whole: “It’s not as bad as other people”. And I’m trying to go: “Actually, I’m telling my story to the Royal Commission. It is a significant thing that happened that shouldn’t have happened”.’