The Pentecostal group to which Katrina’s family belonged regularly held bible study meetings in members’ homes. Katrina remembers adults often sitting in her lounge room to pray while the children went out to play. In the 1980s, when she was four, Katrina was sexually abused in her home by Billy, the 16-year-old son of one of the prayer group attendees.
When the prayer group started, Katrina said she went with her brothers into their bedroom, and Billy accompanied them. As her brothers got onto the top bunk, Billy asked Katrina to stay on the bottom bunk to play.
‘I remember him looking at my underwear and commenting on the picture on them. He then pulled down his jeans and told me to perform oral sex on him. I remember his saying, “It’s okay, it tastes like water”. He then performed oral sex on me and then my mum walked into the room.’
Katrina told the Commissioner that she was crying and complaining that her vagina hurt as her mother took her to the toilet, but they didn’t discuss the abuse further until Katrina was in her late 20s.
‘It didn’t leave me. My whole childhood and especially the teenage years going through puberty, it didn’t leave me at all. It really messed up my childhood – emotionally, mentally.
'I was always afraid to tell my mum, to talk about it with her because growing up in such a religious household, sex was not talked about kind of thing. I didn’t want to bring shame onto Mum. But in the end, I just couldn’t hold it in anymore.’
When Katrina eventually brought up the abuse, her mother was ‘relieved’. She hadn’t wanted to raise the issue because she could see that Katrina wasn’t well and she didn’t want to put extra pressure on her, in case her daughter had forgotten.
‘I didn’t go down very good paths and she didn’t want to add to that’, Katrina said.
At the time of the abuse, Katrina’s mother had gone straight to the pastor who’d told her not to contact Billy’s parents as they were going through troubles of their own. No mention was made of reporting the abuse to the police.
In the mid-1990s, Katrina contacted the pastor herself to find out why he’d taken no action at the time of her abuse. He told her that he and his wife had been new to the area, and young and inexperienced. He also told Katrina that, at his third attempt, Billy had killed himself two years after the abuse.
Katrina said that after the abuse she’d gone from being a friendly, open child to one who was withdrawn and isolated. She’d been on antidepressants from the age of 18 and had been raped by violent partners in abusive relationships.
She was grateful for her now loving relationship, but said the abuse had affected her parenting. Her children didn’t go to childcare and she didn’t trust anyone with them. ‘I find it hard to show affection. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just that I can’t.’
Memories of the sexual abuse still troubled her, but as a worker in the state health system Katrina was reluctant to seek counselling.
‘I like to work things through myself a lot’, she said. She’d contacted one counselling service but the person she spoke with was ‘pushy’ and Katrina could hear her chewing on something, so she didn’t go through with making an appointment. When work situations brought back memories of the abuse, Katrina said her tendency was to push the problem aside or put it off to be dealt with later.
Katrina thought it reflected badly that people like the pastor occupied leadership positions yet had few skills and little training to deal with difficult issues.
‘In any profession you have to be skilled and trained, and I really think it’s a sad state of affairs that these people in power in a vulnerable community have done a few units of study in theology and nothing related to human services – not that I’m aware of. If you’re going to be a pastor, a priest, you need some of that background knowledge.’