Hedda was one of the youngest children in her Catholic family. In the 1970s, she attended a Catholic high school north of Sydney run by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, and went to church every Sunday with the whole family which ‘was like an event’.
Being low down in the sibling ‘pecking order’, Hedda didn’t really have anybody to talk to about the difficulties she faced in adolescence, such as why her body was developing more slowly than her peers. Being shy and ‘very short’, Hedda said that she got her mum to cut the hem of her uniform so that it would sit above her knee ‘because otherwise I would just look even smaller and I didn’t want to look smaller because, you know, I was trying to fit in, and I was so immature and everything. So yeah my dress was short’.
In primary school, Hedda said that she went to confession ‘in a box where the priest couldn’t see you. He was on one side and I was on another side, and there was a curtain, there was a curtain there so I couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see me, and that’s what I thought confession was’.
‘And of course, at that age, I didn’t have any sins. Really, I didn’t … What could you do at that age? So we used to just make up things. Or I did … We didn’t really have sins to confess we were so young.’
In high school, however, the nuns made Hedda’s class queue up for confession. ‘One by one we went into this room,’ she said.
‘I got into the room and the priest was there, the priest was in the same room, and it couldn’t be. I just thought, this can’t be, this can’t be confession, this isn’t right.’
A middle-aged priest, whose name Hedda does not know, sat close to her chair. ‘I was right next to him, and of course I started telling him my sins which were - like I said - were made up … And then he put his hand on my leg. It was my bare leg ‘cause I didn’t wear stockings and that was naughty … and my dress was that short. And he asked me was that all that I did? Was that all the sins that I did? And as he put his hand on my leg, his hand went up under my dress. And I pushed his hand away and I said, yes, that’s all, that’s all I did.’
As Hedda got up and walked to the door, the priest gave her some Hail Marys to say as penance for her sins.
‘I never went back to church ever again,’ Hedda said. ‘If the nuns ever said we were going to church, there was a little hidey hole under the stairs where I used to just, I used to slip back in there. And I could hear them coming back. I’d just slip back out again, or I’d stay home.’
‘By that stage I was allowed to go on my own to church, and so I used to say “I’m going to church” but I never did. I used to just hang around down the oval and pretend I went.’
Hedda said that ‘my case is so little, so small compared to others, but it still had a big impact on my life’.
One of the impacts was the loss of her faith. ‘I’m not a Catholic anymore. I’m no religion anymore. I’m nothing.’
Other impacts included blaming herself for the abuse - because she had a short skirt and bare legs - and problems with intimacy and trust. ‘He was so old to me then. I was disgusted … Sex to me has always been disgusting now. He ruined my life.’
Hedda is also still angry with the nuns. ‘I just want to know, I just want to know why, why the nuns let us sit in that room with him … It wasn’t right the nuns let us sit in that room with him. They must have known. They must have known what he was like.’
About five years ago, when Hedda told her then husband and children about her experience of child sexual abuse, they were supportive. However, when she more recently told her mother and siblings, she was met with various reactions from ‘don’t worry’ to ‘that’s just not true’. She has since had a falling out with them which she said ‘is pretty sad because our family was very close’.
‘My family have broken up about this. I’m even more alone now than ever ‘cause they just don’t talk to me anymore.’
Hedda has received counselling for domestic violence, but she never disclosed the child sexual abuse to her counsellor. She also never reported the incident to the police, but she is now thinking about reporting it to the Catholic Church.
‘I did want an apology. But I wanted an apology from the nuns really, from the school, from that school. My parents paid a lot of money to send us there.’
‘I just want to know why the nuns let that happen. I just want that answer. They were supposed to look after us. Why would they do that?’
As Hedda concluded her private session, she said ‘thanks for listening, and believing me. That was the big thing. That you believed me’.
‘I’ve just got to let it go now.’