Kate’s parents were devout Catholics who sent her to a Catholic primary school in the mid-1970s. The principal of the school was a man named Roger Sloane and he began to abuse Kate when she was about six years old. The abuse occurred in school buildings and often involved religious talk and paraphernalia.
‘He would be standing and I was kneeling’, Kate said. ‘And I had to catch what I thought was urine in my mouth. I was not allowed to swallow it because it was holy … as though my mouth was being the chalice for this holy water.’
Because of the religious connotations of the abuse, Kate said she felt overwhelmed and incapable of reporting it to anyone. She still struggles to explain the power that the Catholic rituals and symbols held over her as a young child.
‘It’s beyond magic. There aren’t words to describe … It’s beyond earthly. There’s no point telling. Because that is the ultimate. This is a part of God because it’s being made holy.’
Kate left the school after a few years and this brought the abuse to an end. After that, the ongoing impact played out in her behaviour in complex and extreme ways.
As a young girl she often wet the bed. She cut her hair short and tried to dress as a boy. By the end of high school she became fixated on suicide.
‘In grade 10 I started carrying razor blades around in my pocket … I had figured out that when I killed myself, which would be on my birthday because then people wouldn’t have to remember me twice, I would cut out a piece of my vein and swallow it so that no one could find me and put it back together.’
Around that time, Kate began to self-harm.
‘By grade 11 I was cutting myself regularly. I’d do that in the shower at home. I’d cut my inner thighs, my buttocks, my breasts, my arms. I’m very lucky that they were all superficial cuts. I would rub salt into the wounds – they were superficial cuts, I’d rub salt into them to make them hurt. I fully had the belief that I was bad and I needed to be punished. I thankfully just have one set of scars that still remain, all over this arm here. And they’re all in the shape of crucifixes.’
Looking back, Kate is surprised that no adults ever intervened. She said there were many occasions when her distress and suicidal thoughts were made obvious to teachers and counsellors, but no one ever reached out to her.
After she finished school, Kate began drinking heavily and fell into a pattern of partnering with men who had experienced childhood trauma, one of whom was abusive.
Then, in her early 30s, she disclosed the abuse to her brother. It was the first time she had mentioned it to anyone. With his support she then went on to tell her parents.
‘And they were devastated. Dad, typically, got up and left the room. And I said, “Why does he do that?” And she said, “Because he’s just so angry. I can tell he’s just so angry”. And I’ve always taken that to be he’s angry at me, but he was angry at the circumstances. And Mum said to me, “Thank goodness Dad didn’t know at the time”. I said, “Why not?” She said, “He would have killed him”. And that made me feel really good.’
Recently Kate spoke to a lawyer about pressing charges against her abuser but was told that ‘the price wasn’t worth the fight’. Nevertheless, she plans to explore further legal options.
In the meantime, she has a strong relationship with a supportive partner and is managing herself with counselling and anti-depressants.
‘I’ve been troubled all my life, and over the last 15 years I’ve put a lot into trying to understand myself and trying to manage myself so that I can have a healthy life.’