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Jemma's story

Jemma was born in the early 1960s and grew up in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. Her grandmother and mother were staunch Catholics who revered the local priest, Father David Morrison. They didn’t know that Morrison was sexually abusing Jemma and many of the other girls in the community.

Jemma was first abused by Morrison when she was 14 years old. Around this time Morrison was a regular visitor to Jemma’s family home. Often when he dropped by he would bring dresses with him for Jemma and the other girls to try on. On one of these occasions he followed Jemma into her bedroom while she was trying on a dress and started fondling and groping her.

From there he went on to molest her during church movie nights and on the excursions he made with Jemma and other girls to the local swimming hole. Jemma remembers how he sat beside her on the bank and offered her a cigarette in exchange for the chance to ‘touch me up’. ‘I just froze’, she said. ‘I just closed my eyes and hoped he’d stop.’

Over time Father Morrison became more brazen in his abuse. One time, when Jemma was sitting by the fireplace at her grandmother’s house, he came close to her and whispered, ‘Can I get under the blanket with you?’ Jemma sat there, unable to move, staring around the room at her grandmother, mother and auntie, while Morrison secretly fondled her.

The abuse continued for years, escalating one Sunday after church to the point where Father Morrison raped Jemma. Afterwards Jemma felt scared and afraid. She could never tell her family what Morrison had done because they were devout Catholics who respected the priest and wouldn’t have believed her.

Jemma knew that she wasn’t Morrison’s only victim. He preyed on many girls in the community. This was why Jemma always looked out for her young cousin and frequently stepped in to prevent her from ever being alone with Morrison.

When Jemma was in her late teens Father Morrison suddenly left the parish. Jemma believes that one of the many girls he had abused finally spoke up, and he was whisked out of the community before a scandal could erupt.

Even then Jemma didn’t mention the abuse. In fact she kept it secret for most of her life. She married young but never mentioned Morrison’s attacks to her husband. The effect of these attacks, however, was plain for her husband to see. ‘When we first married’, Jemma said, ‘I couldn’t let him touch me. I was really scared.’ Jemma’s husband died many years later, never knowing why his wife had been so frightened in the bedroom.

Jemma said that the flashbacks, bad memories and thoughts of shame have made her want to kill herself ‘plenty of times’ over the years but she’s always held back for the sake of her family. Her mental health is better these days, since she finally disclosed the abuse, 52 years after it first occurred.

The person that Jemma first opened up to was the same cousin that she’d protected all those years ago. Jemma then went on to commence regular therapy sessions with a counsellor.

She’s also spoken to a legal service in the hope of tracking down Father Morrison. Jemma wants him to apologise for what he did to her. But she specified that her anger is reserved for Father Morrison only. She doesn’t blame the Church for what happened, and her faith in God is still strong. It’s what gave her the courage to come forward.

‘I prayed to the Almighty to give me strength and courage to tell my story.’

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