Hannah's story

In the 1990s, Hannah’s parents moved to South Australia to make a fresh start. They’d been looking for help to manage problems with alcohol and drug use, and they found it in the town’s Pentecostal Christian Church. They gave up drinking and smoking, found a house, and soon became part of the community.

The family rented a house from Charles Bekker, a counsellor at the church. He worked with families, particularly the children of single mothers, and others who were having difficulties. Hannah said that he and his wife always had kids around them. ‘They seemed like ordinary Christians and made you feel comfortable. Everyone loved them.’

Hannah told the Commissioner that Bekker began sexually abusing her in the 2000s, when she was nine years old. She’d accepted his offer to have a ride on his motorbike.

‘He put me on the front of the bike, and had his hand down my pants while he was steering. He stopped somewhere and pulled his pants down, then he put his penis in me, or near me, I can’t remember.’

When she returned home, Hannah ran inside the house and refused to talk to her mother. The abuse continued over a period of 12 months, during which time Hannah’s mother, Rachel, asked directly if Hannah had been touched by anyone. Hannah denied abuse because Bekker had said that if she told anyone, he would evict the family from their house and they’d have nowhere to live. ‘He also said that he’d come and kill my parents.’

When Bekker became insistent that the family carry out repairs and maintenance to the house, Rachel began searching for alternative accommodation. ‘The day she found a new house was the day I told Mum about the abuse’, Hannah said. Rachel immediately reported it to police, who said they’d had other complaints about Bekker, but that no-one had ever wanted to make a statement.

The police investigation resulted in 11 charges involving four girls being brought against Bekker. Hannah said she was relieved the abuse was no longer a secret, but remained frightened that Bekker would hurt her family.

Members of the church congregation denied that the abuse had occurred and called the family liars. Hannah was teased and bullied at school to the point where the family eventually left town.

Shortly afterward, Bekker was arrested and charged with sexual offences against children under 12. Granted bail, he absconded overseas. Rachel was particularly disappointed with the police handling of the matter over the next decade.

‘They lost files and witness statements, so when it came to court it would be adjourned. It was as though, because I’d had charges against me in the past for drugs, we didn’t matter.’

Bekker was found several years later living back in Australia. He was rearrested but was again granted bail and allowed to keep his passport. Once more he absconded.

‘They told us he’d be flagged through Immigration, but he’d been in and out of the country something like 10 times.’

Rachel discovered through an internet search that Bekker was working in an orphanage overseas. She rang and told them about Bekker’s history and arrest in Australia. A short time later she received from the orphanage a copy of Bekker’s resignation letter.

A warrant remained outstanding for Bekker’s arrest. Hannah was looking forward to having the matter resolved, but didn’t know when that would be. ‘I’m 22 now, and it’s been going on for years. I’ve gradually got on with my life, but it’s always there. I just want it finalised so I can move on.’

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