Kara grew up on a large farm owned by her wealthy Catholic family. Her mother had a close relationship with the parish priest, Father Reese, and would often drop Kara at the presbytery to spend time with him.
In the mid-1960s, when Kara was about 12 years old, Father Reese began to touch her.
‘Every time I went anywhere near him he started to put his hand on me or things like that, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that my mother would drop me off there for him to look after me, “because little girls have to learn how to be big girls”, that’s what she said to me.’
As time went on, Father Reese started to make remarks to Kara about ‘growing up’, using ‘virtually the same terminology that my mother was using’.
A short while later the first incident of abuse occurred. Kara was playing sport one Saturday morning and ended up covered in mud. Father Reese appeared and told her to come inside to avoid catching a cold. Once inside the presbytery he said he was going to fetch a towel and instructed Kara to get undressed and hop into the shower.
‘Which I didn’t. I mean, I was pretty frightened a girl anyhow. And I waited till he got back, and he did bring a towel back, and then I got in the shower. Thought I’d locked the door, but I didn’t. He was in the bathroom with me. He’d taken all my clothes away.’
Reese watched Kara shower and then gave her his jumper to wear and that was the end of the incident. When she got home Kara told her mother what had happened.
‘She told me I was ungrateful and I was a chosen child and I shouldn’t be ungrateful about all of this.’
The abuse continued over the course of the year.
‘It escalated to a lot of hands and heavy fondling. And he said there was nothing wrong with it because I had clothes on the whole time and he could do those things.’
Meanwhile, Kara became increasingly suspicious of her mother’s behaviour.
‘I felt like I was deliberately being left with him. I was being told to get in the car with him. My father travelled a lot so he wasn’t home. I was so ashamed of this. The shame factor for me was horrendous, and after she used the same terms as he did I just thought, “Where do I go? Who do I approach?”’
Kara didn’t want to talk to her father about the abuse because ‘I didn’t want him to look at me through different eyes’, so she felt there was no one she could turn to. Then one day she was talking to Father Kenley, a family friend she had known for most of her life. He asked her why she had been avoiding church and Kara told him about the abuse.
‘And he just said to me – the language was the same. It was, you know, “You’re a special child born into a very good Catholic family and these things are really necessary”.’
Kara immediately wiped Father Kenley out of her life. Years later she learned that he was also a sexual offender.
Kara endured two more incidents in which Father Reese watched her as she showered. During the second incident he took photos of her. After that, Kara convinced her dad to let her change schools. She found herself outside of the priest’s reach, and the abuse never happened again.
Looking back, Kara said she can see how the abuse changed her and affected her life.
‘I wasn’t intimate at all. I was cold. I withdrew because I was worried that somebody would know. I was frightened people would find out.’
Kara’s session with the Royal Commission was the first time, as an adult, she had ever spoken about the abuse. She told the Commissioner she is not interested in counselling, compensation or any other forms of redress.
‘If I received money for it I’d almost feel like I’d been prostituted as a child … I work flat out, is the way I handle things. The same way I handled it as a child.’
Kara now works in the community welfare sector, helping disadvantaged families and children.