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Erica's story

Erica told the Commissioner that she was a quiet child who had a ‘good family upbringing’. In the mid-1970s she was enrolled at the local Catholic primary school. Initially things went well, but when Erica was in Grade 1 she started to get bullied and harassed by Sister Bridget, a nun who taught the Grade 2 class.

‘My teacher was told that if I was naughty to send me to her and she would punish me in some way. So I cried every day I went to school because I knew that I had to meet up with this nun. So every day when I cried I was sent to Sister Bridget to be punished and that’s when the abuse started.’

Sister Bridget would drag Erica into the older children’s class and make her stand in front of them.

‘She used to pull my ears continuously until I stopped crying, and that made me cry more.’

The nun would then force Erica to stay in the classroom during recess. On many of these occasions she pulled the blinds down and then sexually abused Erica.

‘She used to put me on her lap and touch me. And I had to touch her. She always told me that I was an evil child. She said I was a naughty child and I needed to be punished.’

As the abuse continued, Erica started to believe what Sister Bridget said about her and this kept her from telling anyone what was happening.

‘I was just scared because I thought I’d go to hell. And even now I still feel that way.’

Erica struggled through high school but managed to graduate and get a job in the community welfare sector, which she found ‘really rewarding’. Then in her late 20s she saw a TV show about abusive nuns.

‘It all flashed back. All the memories flashed back to me.’

Erica had a breakdown and was hospitalised for depression. During that time she disclosed the abuse to her mother. She also spoke to a psychologist who referred her to a support group, which she found helpful.

Throughout her life Erica has felt that ‘people just didn’t believe me, and I still find it difficult for people to take on board what I say. I just get upset because I feel that no one’s listening’. In the support group, others are finally listening to her and believing.

Over the years Erica has made several attempts on her own life. A few years back she was diagnosed with severe mental health issues.

‘I hear voices and see things that aren’t there as well as having the depression. So it’s one of those things that I’m struggling with. And I haven’t been able to work for the last 17 years on a fulltime basis or any basis, so financially it’s been a struggle for that amount of time. I just wanted to make it clear that my mental health has been affected by this.’

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