‘I struggle. People outside the situation don’t struggle at all. It’s very clear. But there’s still those messages from the Church that it was consensual, it wasn’t really abuse, it was a consensual relationship. Then of course I hear the other people in my head going “You were 14 and he was 32”.’
Lloyd Parker was a young deacon at Isla’s Christian church in New South Wales in the 1990s. He ‘took a special interest’ in her on a church camp one time and from there the situation progressed to a sexual relationship.
‘We started spending a lot of time together,’ Isla recalled. ‘He would come to my house, I would go to his house, and we became “boyfriend-girlfriend”.’ The relationship continued for two years then Isla began to worry. ‘I was a committed Christian, I still am a committed Christian, and I started to question “Is this relationship God’s will?”’
She sought advice from her minister, John Hamill. At first Isla edged around the issue, avoiding naming any names. But Hamill knew exactly who she was talking about and told her so. Isla then asked him a hypothetical question: if your own teenage daughter was having a relationship with Hamill, would this be okay? Hamill replied ‘Absolutely not’ and encouraged Isla to pray about it.
‘I wrestled with it for probably about another three or four months before I decided that it wasn’t God’s will and I ended the relationship. So to me it was like a boyfriend-girlfriend breaking up.’
Confused and vulnerable, Isla ‘transferred that need for a father figure to John, my minister. Started spending a lot of time with him’. She told Hamill some of the details of what she’d been through with Parker and he encouraged her to ‘confess any sin that’s involved, put it behind me and move on. And John was like my father figure, so if he says “move on”, move on. And over time it became apparent that I wasn’t moving on’.
Isla’s school grades dropped. She did poorly in the Higher School Certificate (HSC) and lost her chance of getting into the university course she’d always dreamed of. Her mental health deteriorated. Meanwhile, the congregation began to mutter about the close relationship between Isla and John Hamill. ‘Even though there was nothing inappropriate with John and I at all, other people could construe it as inappropriate.’
In response, Hamill became cold and distant towards Isla. ‘The more he tried to distance himself from me the more I started to cling. And everything went crazy. You sort of had these two things playing out: my attachment to John and all that chaos and then at the same time, like he’s encouraged me into therapy, so I’m in therapy talking about what happened with Lloyd.’
Isla’s therapist encouraged her to report Lloyd Parker to police, which Isla did. The police ‘couldn’t get their head around’ the complexities of Isla’s case and told her there was nothing they could do. But they did look into Parker’s background and came back to Isla with the news that he had been charged with an act of public indecency.
By this stage, Parker was working in a children’s ministry within the church. Isla rang him up and told him that if he didn’t tell the church elders about the public indecency she would. Parker was ‘shit scared’ and did as Isla said. The elders responded by removing him from his position of leadership. Isla assumed they’d removed him from the church as well. She stayed away from the congregation for several years then returned one day and was shocked by what she saw.
‘I saw him in a church service, sitting through that service with his arm around a 10-year-old girl. And I went up to John – John’s preaching right – and when John is finished I went up to him and before I could say a word he said “I’ve dealt with it, Isla”. I said “How have you dealt with it? Look at him”.’
Isla then tried to warn the girl’s mother but by then she ‘had a reputation as a crazy person’ and the message didn’t get through.
Years later, Isla was seeing a new therapist who encouraged her to take legal action against the church. Isla engaged a solicitor and embarked on a ‘three-year nightmare’ that ended with an out-of-court settlement.
The church paid $135,000. Of that, Isla’s lawyers took $100,000. Ten grand went on psychiatric assessments and other costs related to the case, so in the end Isla walked away with about $25,000. ‘If I had been psychic and I could have known, I would never have done it. It was not worth it. It was just so traumatic.’
Parker never apologised, nor did the church. ‘That is all I wanted, the whole way through. That’s what I want. What I still want. I just want someone to say “We stuffed up”. And this is the thing, I have spoken with John and his wife Megan since, and they’re quite open about the fact that it was a legal manoeuvre; that is what they were legally advised to do. They do not believe that they did anything wrong or that anything untoward happened. It’s just crushing.’
These days Isla gets by on a disability support pension (DSP) while managing ongoing mental health challenges and excelling at university. Despite her achievements, she still feels like a failure sometimes.
‘I have the media at me all the time, telling me that I’m a waste of space because I’m on the DSP and I’m a bludger and a rorter. And I try so hard. I try so hard. But, yeah, I’m one of those “bludgers” on the DSP. Living the high life on $350 a week.’