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Elyse's story

Elyse grew up in New South Wales knowing she was adopted by her strict Catholic parents.

‘My adopted father was a convert to the Catholic faith, so he took that sort of thing very seriously. He was also a very cruel and violent man. He would often resort to physical punishment for the slightest misdemeanour … I was sort of a vulnerable little person.’

In the mid-1970s, when Elyse was in her early teens, she formed a close relationship with Samuel Collet who worked at her Catholic school in a non-teaching role. ‘He had white hair, he was doddery. He just looked like a grandfather-type person. He had a smile, big blue eyes, the whole works … He was a charmer.’

Assuming she would become a nun, Elyse would often go to the chapel to pray. One day Collet found her there upset and put his arm around her.

‘That sort of started the spiralling of physical attention, you know, giving me cuddles and asking me about my background and all this sort of stuff. And he started to construe what I was saying, and sort of making out it was terrible that I was an adopted kid, that I was in a family that didn’t understand, and I had a cruel father and all this sort of stuff … Things went wrong and he touched me one day. I don’t know how but I knew this is not quite right. It was uncomfortable … I sort of went along with it because I didn’t feel threatened.’

Eventually Collet’s physical affection progressed to oral sex and then rape. ‘When he had sex with me, full blown sex with me the first time at the park, I bled. Now I think he thought that I’d had sex with a boy before. He went into absolute panic ‘cause he’d taken my virginity.’

After that incident, Collet made Elyse write a story about seeing a boy from the local Marist College. ‘He kept the letter. And I now know in hindsight that was going to be his security, that if he ever got exposed that I had written down that I’ve had sex with another boy. At this stage he was giving me alcohol. He was giving me sort of relaxants because at this stage we were having sex.’

‘I fell in love with him as a father figure. He was my protector … When I think about it, I used to call him “Daddy” at school … I was happy when nothing was happening because he was spoiling me rotten, giving me presents … He was saying how beautiful I could look, how to do my hair, my makeup, everything. He was basically remaking me into something else.’

Other staff noticed that Elyse and Collet appeared to be unusually close, and queried their relationship. Elyse disclosed the abuse to a teacher who approached the principal on her behalf. Elyse also told the school counsellor who went directly to Collet. Collet denied the abuse and Elyse was branded a liar.

‘He had got me into a situation now where it wouldn’t matter what I said to anybody, they all respected him. “This couldn’t possibly be Samuel. He’s so well respected, thought of” … I’d had enough by this stage. Everything had gone awry, my brain was scrabbled with all the stuff he had me on. I tried to commit suicide.’

Collet then convinced her parents she was mentally ill and would be better off living with him. Her parents agreed and Elyse went to live with Collet and his much younger wife. ‘She was part of some of the sexual acts that we had to do … She was weird. She never had a conversation, she never talked much.’

During this time, Collet revealed that he was a member of the Catenian Society. He took Elyse to a meeting but they quickly left after her cousin, a priest, walked in.

‘You know what Catenians are? Catholic organisation like freemasons ... He went to a meeting, took me, presented me as his daughter, a foster daughter. And basically I can remember sitting on his lap during this thing. There was another girl doing the same with somebody else. And him basically discussing with them how they could have me, I was a virgin, et cetera.’

Elyse told the Commissioner that the Catenians ‘put themselves up as caring for kids in trouble – drug addicts, wards of the state, exchange students – anywhere where they can have contact with young individuals … I remember the week after that as well where Samuel was explaining to me all the things that you can do. You know, you dress up in white as a virgin, they auction you off and all this sort of stuff … I was about 17 by this stage’.

It was while living with the Collets that Elyse discovered she was one of many Samuel had abused.

‘He had pictures of all the other girls. He told me everything about them, where he’d basically met them in all corners of the world. Their pictures were up. I understood that he was sort of collecting us to make a family. That he was offering all these other girls as my sisters, potential big family for me that would love me and all this sort of stuff … He was trying to reassure me that this was a normal situation, that he took care of kids like me.

‘I was starting to understand what was going on, so I basically got into my head that I just had to wait my time to be able to escape from him ... I had moments of clarity. I attempted to kill him at one stage by not giving him his drugs. I thought that might work. He punished me by making me drink two bottles of whisky.’

A year later, Collet left Australia and Elyse was finally free. ‘About three or four weeks after he left I had a stroke. I presume it’s because I was coming off all the barbiturates and stuff that he had left with me … Suddenly he was gone and I had nothing. I had no family. I was on the street. I had nowhere to go, so I ended up in hospital in detox. And then after that got my act together.’

After being released from hospital Elyse found a job, completed a vocational certificate and started her career. Although she has clear memories of the abuse, she has almost no memories of the person she was before Collet came into her life, and has spent time reconnecting with people from her childhood in order to find that out. ‘I literally have no memory from back them. All this has come flooding back to me in the last couple of months.’

Although Elyse has no trust in men, she married and had children as a means of ‘getting out of New South Wales, changing my name, leaving that place’. She had no further contact with Collet and went to great lengths to ensure he was unable to find her.

Several years ago, Elyse received counselling for an unrelated incident and revealed her history of abuse. She has never reported Collet to the police nor made a formal complaint to the Catholic Church, but has tried to talk with her adoptive family who ‘wouldn’t listen’.

Elyse was disappointed to discover that Collet died several years ago because only now does she have the courage to try to bring him to justice. Nevertheless, she wants to protect her own children from her story and has no intention of disclosing to them.

‘It hasn’t destroyed my life. I’m a better person. I went on to become a very productive, community-orientated person. I help others. I’m the luckier one who seems to have enough brains to get me out of this circumstance.’

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