‘As a child we were taught that people of the cloth were representatives of God, and above the usual person. It was like a magical connection with God and part perfection of the priest, friar, or nun. We lived church every day.
‘The problem was the utmost respect for all clergy without defining the difference between the flesh and the spiritual. This is where things went very wrong. Some of the people of the cloth used this holy mask to satisfy their twisted minds.’
Growing up in the 1970s, almost all of Emory’s family friends were clergy, or members of the Anglican Church. Emory’s adoptive parents – ‘really good people’ who are still heavily involved with the Church and charity work – often invited Franciscan Friars to stay at their home.
Brother Cuthbert visited from interstate when Emory – who grew up as a boy but now identifies as gender neutral, and uses the pronoun ‘they’ – was eight years old. Cuthbert soon began showing special attention to Emory. When the children played hide and seek, Cuthbert ‘whispered softly “hop under here” and he lifted up his robe and helped me hide under his robe’.
This grooming soon lead to sexual contact. The first time, Cuthbert commented on how ‘special’ Emory was, and then began ‘talking about rude things and mentioned my genitals and that “I must have a big fella”’. Cuthbert stroked Emory’s genitals, and made them touch his.
He told Emory ‘with a smile and a wink, “this was our secret”. He was also a priest and I felt privileged that a priest’s “secret” included me. I remember as a kid a secret was sacred and with a priest it was covenant’.
The next time, Cuthbert stroked and kissed Emory’s genitals, and put them in his mouth – ‘I remember his beard irritated me’. He then made Emory perform oral sex on him, which was scary and confusing.
‘Genitals were extremely private and NOT talked about. It was taboo even amongst the same gender. We were also brought up that priests and people of God were holy and perfect. What they did was right and of God. This fear was greater than the taboo of genitals.’
Another time Cuthbert ‘inserted his finger in my anus. All my memory remembers is saying “ouch”, and I don’t remember his response’. Again he made Emory perform fellatio. ‘I remember the strange taste of “stuff” that came from his genitals. By memory I coughed. He pulled his hand away from the back of my neck and from my bottom and comforted me.’
The next time, Emory was hidden under Cuthbert’s cloak, like when they played hide and seek. ‘Something painful happened after this, and I would like to know what. I remember my mother having a word with me a few days later because there were stains in my underpants. I think she said I’m “not wiping my bottom well enough”. I remember this distinctly. Since this event I have had a habit of constantly wiping my bottom and washing it many times in the shower.’
Emory was sent by their parents to see a child psychiatrist in Grade 4. They refused to be touched or held, disassociated, and exhibited other ‘strange and angry behaviour’. Emory did not tell the psychiatrist about the abuse.
The same year, Emory’s brother showed them pornography. ‘When I became more aware of sexuality and the roles associated to this, I questioned not really my sexuality, but gender and that I must be a girl due to the abuse and what it had done. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I was confused about what “chicks” do and what had happened to me must be related.’
From this time ‘my condition with my genitals has been a large issue with sexuality. To this day they disgust me. I see them as a cancer, a tattoo and reminder of what was done to me. I have had stages of trying to damage them; reading up on how to remove them, just to ease the pain’.
Emory became disgusted with their genitals, tucking them away between their legs, and they were diagnosed with gender dysphoria as an adult. They recently began taking hormones to alter their body; ‘there is an amazing peace when I am able to live and be treated as my gender, a woman. This has been part of who I have been from mid primary school, after the abuse. It is one of the journeys that give me comfort in who I am and where I want to go’.
Emory has also been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. They experience regular night terrors, have self-harmed (causing permanent brain injury) and also attempted suicide.
The abuse left Emory disgusted with anything sexual, and they have been asexual and celibate for 20 years. ‘I feel shame, guilt, dirty, embarrassed, judged, angry, damaged and owned.’
Emory studied psychology, trying to understand how Cuthbert thought: ‘What the hell was he up to? Why did he do this to me?’
When Emory disclosed this abuse to their mother, she revealed that their sibling had also been abused by Cuthbert. Although she still speaks frequently about her religious devotion, Emory thinks that perhaps she now questions the Church’s hierarchy.
Knowing about the abuse also helped Emory’s mother understand a lot of their childhood behaviours. Still, Emory has ‘filtered’ what they disclose to their parents. ‘They’re in their seventies. Why does more than one person need to be punished?’
Recently Emory reported the abuse to police. This was a positive experience, but as Cuthbert is deceased no action could be taken. They have also reported it to the Anglican Church, who found Emory’s account to be ‘plausible’, and have paid for therapy sessions.
Negotiations for financial compensation are underway, although Emory would prefer healing to money. ‘I’ll still be a damaged mind, a damaged soul, with an expensive television. And that won’t resolve anything.’
Emory hopes that speaking to the Royal Commission and providing a written account of their experiences, will ‘be a part of my healing’. They would like to see more research into any neurological changes to children who have been sexually abused, and greater awareness of the physical and behavioural changes, mental illness, and other long term damage this abuse may cause.
Ongoing therapy and medication have helped alleviate their pain and suffering. ‘Being able to cry, scream and talk to the therapists about my abuse has been like releasing poison from my mind. The hope of being able to live independently, build strength from my past and move on with life, gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.’