As a young girl, Kath had a variety of health conditions that required regular check-ups in hospital. In 1951, when she was nine, she was referred to Doctor Lloyd, a Melbourne specialist and, accompanied by her mother, she went to his consulting rooms.
Once there, Doctor Lloyd called Kath into a room by herself while her mother stayed in the waiting area.
‘There was the light on’, Kath said. ‘He turned the light off and put on just a low yellow light and then he just stood right beside me and the hand starts up the dress and up the pants and proceeded on. And I can still see his face and his eyes ’cause he just stared, stared –stared at me, never said a word. Just stared.
‘And that went on for as long as he wanted. He never got out a stethoscope, he never said anything, and when he finished, I got off the table and went out. I never told my mother. I wouldn’t know what the report to the hospital was.’
Kath didn’t know what the doctor’s specialty was nor why she’d been referred to him. ‘I wonder if there was someone at the children’s hospital who was a friend of his and just said, “This is a little girl who won’t say boo, won’t report it, won’t object. She’ll do as she’s told” –which was me, a quite quiet girl with no confidence. And at that time, specialists and doctors were up on pedestals and they had the education and we weren’t anywhere near that level of education and so you always did as you were told and never challenged them.’
When she was in her 30s, Kath told her mother what the specialist had done.
‘She was really, really upset and shocked and felt she’d probably let me down, but looking at that period of time – there was a friend who said to me, “Your mother should have gone in with you”, and I thought, well that’s not really fair to my mum because my parents were just so caring and careful and watching and aware and … you wouldn’t challenge a Collins Street specialist.’
Kath said only recently had she told other people, including her immediate family, about the abuse. ‘I’ve just sort of taken it, that was life and I feel that I’ve been fairly lucky it hasn’t affected me.’
Emerging media reports of child sexual abuse were the catalyst for Kath coming to the Royal Commission. ‘When that was in the media, I decided well yes, I would do something about it. But I suppose it’s now other people telling their stories or [I’ve] said I’m going to and they’ll say, “Similar things happened to me”, and it’s just one after the other after the other after the other.’
She’d never taken civil action nor had she reported the abuse to Victoria Police. She had asked the hospital for copies of her medical records but was told they no longer existed for 1950s day patients.
Kath said part of the reason for disclosing the abuse to her mother when she did was because at that time she had children of her own.
‘I became very, very wary when we had children and I did say to them when they were young that, “If anyone does anything to you that you’re not happy with or don’t feel is right, come and tell me.”’
She knew of sexual abuse that was ‘far worse’ than hers, but when she received the confirmation call for her private session with the Commission she ‘spent the whole time crying’.
‘I thought I’d come through it fairly well in my life until I got [that] phone call.’
Kath told the Commissioner that her employment brought her into contact with Catholic schools, and she had worked with others to remove affirmative and honorific references to clergy who’d been found to have sexually abused children. It had taken nearly four years to get the name of one prolific offender removed from public display, and as she’d continued to pursue the matter, people had told Kath she was ‘tampering with history’.
‘I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it for the victims, who had suicided often, and I was doing it for their mothers and their families because I just thought, “how dare they?”’
‘I suppose whenever I go to a specialist, I always think back to that and just think, that’s past. The people I go to now I trust and I don’t have any negativity towards them, and I guess I can pick up by their body language as well, and I suppose I’ve been very, very lucky – the specialists I’ve been referred to have been excellent. [But] it’s still there.’