Throughout her teenage years, Isabella was the organist in her local Anglican church. It was a role she enjoyed until the arrival of a new priest, Father George Stephens, in the mid 1960s. Although Isabella’s parents were impressed with Stephens, and his wife and daughters, Isabella wasn’t and felt very uncomfortable in the priest’s presence.
When Isabella was 17, Stephens suggested he come to her house on Wednesday afternoons so they could play music together. ‘I thought someone wants to make music with me, so that’s what happened’, Isabella said. ‘But he came around, and he was fondling and everything else.’
Isabella told the Commissioner that Stephen’s behaviour escalated over a period of weeks. 'I was doing my finals at school and he came around every morning when I was trying to study, and one day he actually tried to rape me, and I got really, really strong. I don’t know where I got the strength from but I pushed him off.
'He said, “I have to go away on a ship”, and I thought, people don’t go on ships anymore; they go on planes. And I often thought, if he goes away everyone’s going to blame me. Everyone’s going to say things about me, and so I never said anything about that.’
In the small New South Wales town, Isabella worried what others would say if they found out what Stephens was doing. Both her mother and father knew or suspected something was happening but they blamed and verbally abused their daughter. Isabella said this was because her father was more interested in protecting his own position within the church community, while her mother ‘hated’ her.
Stephens told his wife that Isabella had made advances towards him, then once ‘the relationship’ became known, he told Isabella that she’d have to stay away from him. He and his wife visited Isabella at her home and gave her five pounds. ‘I felt that I had been paid out and I didn’t want it’, Isabella said.
Isabella described having feelings of low self-esteem and a fear of being raped throughout her life. As an adult she’d experienced depression and problems with alcohol use, and had difficulty trusting others. For some time she taught in schools, and she later became a social worker but felt ‘hate’ towards the profession. She’d never been interested in counselling because she ‘didn’t think it would do any good’.
In the late-1990s, Isabella joined an organisation that assisted people who had been sexually abused by clergy. She felt they were more concerned with male victims and situations where there was the possibility of a class action. They recommended a lawyer who acted on Isabella’s behalf in seeking compensation from the Anglican Church. The outcome was that the Church paid $6,000, a third of which went to the lawyer. Isabella also received an apology but it meant nothing to her and she still resents not only the amount received, but also the ‘gag order’ imposed on her. She said she was currently considering obtaining further legal advice to get the payment and its conditions reviewed.
‘I’ve gone through life feeling that nothing I’ve done amounts to anything’, Isabella said. ‘The only men who showed an interest in me were men who just wanted to get married and that was far from what I wanted. I have always been on my own and I’ve always been better off.’