‘Evan is not here anymore. He’s not actually here to hurt anymore, but the hurt is continuing. And when your child is weeping and sobbing because they miss their dad, that is the absolute worst moment of it all.’
Jenna came to the Royal Commission to talk about Evan. He was her ex-husband, best friend and the father of her child.
At age seven Evan was sent to stay with an old lady after school while his parents worked. Each afternoon for the next two to three years the old lady would hand Evan over to a Catholic priest who then sexually abused him.
Jenna knew none of this story when she first met Evan, and yet she sensed that there was something wrong with him. Behind his intelligence and charm, Evan hid something fragile and half-broken. Indeed, this may have been part of what attracted Jenna to him.
‘I was an observer of extreme violence in life at a very young age, and that impacts on your brain and your growth. And I was very conscious that there was something really wrong with Evan and that perhaps maybe I could help. I guess I felt almost obligated in a way.’
Jenna and Evan became friends and stayed that way for many years before they became a couple. By the time they married, Jenna knew that Evan was addicted to heroin. She didn’t know the reason why. Evan never mentioned that he had been sexually abused, though he often talked around the topic, referring to other kids who had fallen victim to the priest.
‘He used to say that he was the one who didn’t get abused. Which I imagine is quite common. He was the one who didn’t get abused. It was only the other boys.’
All Jenna knew at the time was that her husband was troubled and sought relief from drugs. He operated on a three-monthly cycle: earning money, blowing it all on drugs, quitting his job before they fired him and moving on to the next job to start all over again.
It was a tough life for Jenna but she was tough enough to handle it and probably would have persisted with the relationship for many more years if Lucy hadn’t been born. For the sake of her daughter, Jenna moved out.
Life improved as Lucy grew older. Jenna and Evan divorced but maintained a good relationship thanks to Jenna’s insight and determination. Evan went to rehab and participated in group therapy where he disclosed the sexual abuse for the first time.
Once the truth was out, everything moved quickly. Evan took legal action against the Catholic Church and was awarded $120,000 compensation. He had big plans for the money; it was going to go into an account called the ‘Lucy Martin Education Trust’.
These plans never came to fruition. Evan spent all the money on heroin. Sometime later he died of a drug overdose.
Jenna blames the Catholic Church for his death. She said they never offered any support or pastoral care. They didn’t listen to Evan, they just threw ‘hush money’ at him, knowing that he was a recovering drug addict.
‘And it well and truly hushed him up. They may as well have given him a massive syringe of pure heroin and said, “Here, Sunshine, take this”. And he did. He took it.’
Lucy, who was only a little girl at the time, was devastated by Evan’s death. She’s doing better now, thanks in part to the Kids Helpline, which Jenna described as ‘a real saving grace’. But Jenna still fears for her. One of Jenna’s first thoughts when she heard that Evan had died was, ‘How do I stop my own child from going down the same path?’
On top of her worries as a mother, Jenna struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and a number of stress-related physical problems. She believes that she and Lucy are secondary victims of the priest who abused Evan, and she’s thinking about seeking redress from the Catholic Church.
‘I’ve always said, “Oh yeah, we’re fine”. And we’re not. That’s bullshit. We are not fine. Lucy and I get by because of my determination and because I am able to go to friends and family members and get support that I need, but financially I’m on a pension. We actually do deserve support for this. This has impacted my capacity to earn money.’
Jenna knows that the legal path would be a gruelling one but she’s not afraid to go down it.
‘There’s no one I am scared of. I am not scared of the Catholic Church. I am not scared of those men who think they are gods, who think they are the mouthpiece of some invisible sky fairy.’