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Hazel Jean's story

Hazel grew up in a troubled family. Her father drank heavily and was physically abusive, and her mother suffered from depression.

Hazel attended a Catholic primary school in Sydney, and in the mid-1960s was enrolled in a Catholic high school run by the Sisters of Mercy.

Discipline at the school was harsh, and ‘it was belted into us virtually’ that priests, nuns and Brothers were beyond reproach. ‘I have memories of children having their pants pulled down and exposed to the class while they were hit with the cane … they’re things that absolutely wouldn’t be allowed now.’

Hazel received no sex education at home or at school. ‘Young people were far more naive around sexuality than what they are now. And having the nuns tell you things like, “Women don’t run. It excites men”, you know, like, what rubbish … ridiculous.’

When she was 14 Hazel attended a school dance. ‘A young man asked me to go outside, and kissed me. I hadn’t stepped into any sexual domain.’ Hazel was more concerned with studying, sport and her family situation. With her lack of knowledge, she became ‘really worried. I thought, “Oh God, I’ve become pregnant now”’.

Soon after the dance Hazel attended a religious retreat and went to confession. She told the Commissioner she was ‘traumatised and thinking that you know, what have I done with my life … I’ve ruined my life’. The priest made an ongoing appointment for Hazel to go and visit him for counselling.

Hazel believed the priest would be a stabilising influence. ‘I can gain some knowledge and some support in the time that I’m going through, and, you know, things will be okay … I could be guided through this.’

The first appointment went well, and Hazel believed she had found an ‘ongoing mentor’. ‘As it went along … I was stupid and ignorant. Well, I’m calling myself stupid but I wasn’t … my mind was on my studies, my mind was on the next basketball or swimming competition and my friends … just being a kid. And so I really didn’t have the knowledge to know what was going on.’

The priest began to groom her, making comments such as, ‘You’re a lovely girl’, while putting his hands on her knees and ‘running his hands up my, you know. I felt uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable with it, but God was involved … and so I was becoming really confused with the whole thing and it went on for, I don’t know, about four or five months’.

The priest would get down on his knees in front of Hazel and grab her. ‘I’d be sort of, you know, “Sit there. If you’re going to talk to me, sit there and don’t touch me. Just … talk”.’ Hazel felt ‘really uncomfortable and shamed’ and when the priest suggested that she go up to his room, she refused. ‘I didn’t want to be up there isolated … with him behaving like that, because … it was something I hadn’t been introduced to.’

Hazel told the Commissioner that when the priest’s behaviour changed, ‘wanting to put his hand up my dress and feeling me and touching me’, she didn’t really know what was happening, but it she knew it ‘feels awful. You know, this just is wrong. It just feels awful’, and she stopped going to the appointments.

Hazel did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time. If she had told the nuns at the school, ‘it wouldn’t have been welcomed. I would have come away feeling berated or punished’.

The priest’s actions ‘impacted on my life … how to cope with men when they’re like that. I normally just cut and run. I’ve seen a psychiatrist. I’ve seen a psychologist. And it just impacted’.

When Hazel consulted the psychiatrist, she couldn’t bring herself to talk about the abuse. ‘I’d buried it pretty well … I couldn’t name it, I couldn’t pin it down.’ It was only a chance remark by one of her children that acted as a trigger for her to start talking. ‘It all came flooding back to me.’

‘I’d been struggling along with it for years. Guilt, guilt, guilt, you know, lots and lots of lashings of guilt.

‘When I talk about guilt, I was talking about the guilt that kept me there. The guilt about the priest’s role in my life as a Catholic, and you know, the priest was the representation of God … the guilt that held me from following my feelings right from the beginning, regardless of whether I had knowledge to match what was happening.’

Hazel has not applied for compensation, but ‘would love to. Because I’m not about bitterness or vengeance or anything. I’m about creating a new way of being. You know … creating … equality and knowledge around being who you are and not having to carry this stuff through your life. Life can be challenging enough without having a whole gaping hole in your emotional being’.

Hazel believes, ‘there’s a library that we hold within ourselves, like a library of experience but also, too, the study that marries with that and gives you a deeper understanding of what happened and … where human beings can go with their behaviours.

‘The reason I’m here … I do it for the future. Because I don’t want people like me being very confused around relationships … I could have made better choices if I didn’t have that as part of the … I feel that my life would have been different.’

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