‘I don’t know why, I just felt it was my fault. I felt that I was the one who had done something wrong … he made me feel like I was the dirty one. He kept telling me that I wanted it, but I didn’t want it.’
In the early 1980s, Kerri attended a Lutheran primary school in regional Queensland. In Year 7, when she was 11 years old, the pastor of the school began to pay her special attention.
‘We had chapel every week that he would hold … [and] pastoral care on Fridays with him … [so as to] develop a relationship with God but that didn’t happen.
‘He would call us in to talk about problems but then those talks would end up turning sexual … [He] gradually warmed up to it [by] talking about sexual things and then it would be … showing me photos of pornography, “This is what a man looks like, a grown man” … I’d never seen a penis before in my life … I was very innocent'.
The abuse progressed to include physical contact and was a weekly occurrence for the whole year.
‘He would explain how to pleasure yourself and how to pleasure a man … he would start masturbating himself while talking about it. It gave me a horrible feeling inside. I was so scared … I felt it was my fault, that I was the one who’d done something wrong …
‘Then came the touching … He then would expose himself and ask me to touch it. I was so scared.’
Kerri was belittled and humiliated by the pastor and made to feel that she was ‘the dirty one causing it to happen’. He told her that she ‘was going to hell because I was a dirty slut’.
The pastor also gave Kerri a pornographic centerfold to take home.
‘I took it home and my mum found it and she actually asked where I got it from and I said “Pastor Bill” and she went to the school with it … I don’t know what came about … I was too scared to tell her anything else. Even having that, it scared me. I thought I was going to be in huge trouble.’
Despite Kerri’s mother speaking to the school, the pastor remained in his job and the abuse continued. Kerri believed the man was untouchable.
‘He must have been because he was still kept on … My mother … wouldn’t have just taken it lightly. My mother was a strong Christian woman and she found it [the centerfold] absolutely disgusting and disturbing and she would have let her thoughts be known to the principal. She wouldn’t have let it go.’
The abuse changed Kerri.
‘I didn’t feel like I was me anymore. I felt like I was a shell of a person. I couldn’t develop friendships … I was always seeking, trying to find something but I didn’t know what I was trying to find … just felt empty inside my heart.’
‘[The abuse] stayed in the back of my mind forever. Two broken marriages. Problems with alcohol and drugs all through my life. Never been able to form a strong, close trusting [relationship] … It’s affected me a lot.’
She didn’t tell anyone about her abuse until recently when she caught up with an old school friend.
‘I held it in for 30 years. It wasn’t until … one night and somehow it got on the subject of [the pastor] when [my friend] said he was a dirty old paedophile … I opened up and told [my friend] what had happened to me. It was a really hard night, that night.’
Kerri realised that she hadn’t been the only one who was abused and that the pastor had been a predator with many victims in her class and in the broader school community. After opening up about her abuse, Kerri relapsed into drugs until her school friend ‘woke me up’. Her friend told her that, ‘You can’t let this bloke control you like this’.
She has great difficulty sleeping and is on antidepressant medication.
‘When I close my eyes he haunts me like a demon. I just want him to go away … I still have panic attacks … I find it hard to make close friendships … I cannot be intimate with a man anymore.’
She is, though, about to begin trauma-informed counselling with a psychiatrist.
‘I’ve got to get rid of it … I can’t do it no more.’
Kerri and her school friends who were also abused have joined together to seek compensation from the school. Her abuser is dead and can’t be pursued through the criminal courts but Kerri believes that school authorities knew about the pastor.
‘Someone has got to be held accountable … The headmaster was right there. He must have known something. The headmaster is still alive.’
Kerri has a young daughter and she wants to be the best mother she can be.
‘I’ve been hardhearted ever since … If I become soft I break down. I still don’t have close friends … I’ve always been alone … I wake up every morning now for my baby girl … That’s why I need to get fixed now before she gets old enough to notice there’s something wrong.’