Elspeth was born at the beginning of the Great Depression, and grew up in Sydney’s north-western suburbs. Her father contracted tuberculosis and spent many years in a sanatorium, eventually dying there. Elspeth’s mother then had to go to work, doing whatever she could to support the family.
Father Carl Alsop was a Marist priest from their parish. Elspeth remembers him turning up to their home one Sunday evening after her father went away, when she was around 11 years old. ‘He came and he had different things that he gave us. We were sort of in a fairly poor position at that stage.’
Elspeth remembers him showing her a copy of Life magazine, the first she had ever seen. ‘He was being nice and friendly, to Mum and to me.’ Alsop then started coming to the house after school hours.
‘He knew where the key was, that Mum would leave out for us when she went to work. And he would get the key and let himself in. And when I came home from school he’d be in the house. And that’s how it started’.
Elspeth’s mother would still be at work, and her brother got home later than she did. Alsop would sexually abuse her when they were alone in the house together, a few times a week.
‘He’d lay me down, and he’d get on top of me. He didn’t actually penetrate, but it was interfering that way. And he would get his benefit out of it.’
Elspeth recalls being quite innocent as a young girl, and she didn’t tell her mother about Alsop coming to the house. Whilst he was never threatening to her, ‘I can’t remember him being particularly nice’.
After some months, Elspeth told a girl in her class about what Alsop was doing. This friend advised Elspeth that she might have a baby because of it. Concerned, Elspeth immediately told her mother about Alsop’s after-school visits.
Her mother rang Alsop’s supervisor, Father Anderson. She told Anderson that the house was now being watched over by a neighbour, and that if Alsop went there the police would be called.
From this time on Elspeth did not see Alsop at her home. She did, however, continue to see him at church, and on one occasion even attended confession with him. Her mother never discussed the abuse with her again.
Elspeth experienced sexual harassment from other men as she got older, including a man exposing himself to her on the tram. She remembers feeling vulnerable, and asking her mother why men would always be saying inappropriate things to her on the street.
She married when she was quite young, and had some difficulties with sexual intimacy. Her husband was very understanding, and always looked after her. ‘I had a very good marriage, a very happy marriage ... He was marvellous with me, as far as the sex went, you know, he was very gentle and kind. He knew, I told him the story.’ They remained married for 60 years, until he passed away a few years ago.
Elspeth found she could push the abuse aside for periods of time, ‘but it would come back’. After the birth of her second child, she was having a problem with sex, and ‘I remember consulting the doctor about this’. She did not ever have any counselling about the abuse, or the impacts it had on her.
It was only recently that she told her daughter about these experiences, and she hasn’t disclosed it to her other children yet. She never reported the abuse to the Catholic Church or the police.
Elspeth spoke to the Royal Commission as she wanted it known that this kind of abuse had been happening for many years. Hearing about the Commission’s work has ‘brought more of a relief really. I always feel for these children that were in the institutions, what they’ve gone through – that would’ve been a lot worse than me.’