‘I couldn’t seem to break loose of this emotional hold he had over me. I thought of sex as being like super glue.’
Kristen was born in a Catholic refuge in the early 1960s, and adopted out within a week to a Catholic family. When she was around 11 Kristen started to believe her adoptive parents favoured their own biological child. This belief caused her a great deal of suffering, and her wellbeing ‘slowly deteriorated’.
At 16 she was admitted to a Catholic welfare home for adolescents in Perth, on the advice of a psychiatrist. Kristen soon developed a relationship with one of the workers, Keith, who was in his mid-20s.
‘I believed no one wanted me, loved or cared for me, so to have someone who seemed to take an interest in me, my feelings and thoughts was the most wonderful experience of my life at the time.’
Keith cuddled her as they watched TV. One night he persuaded her to sneak out at midnight to meet him in his room. ‘I sat on his knee in my nightgown facing towards him between the doorway of his room while he placed his hands under my clothes and felt all over my body.’
Keith had a girlfriend who Kristen knew and considered a friend. When he became engaged to her, ‘he said that under different circumstances he may have married me, but I was too young and living in this home, which made it impossible’.
Kristen felt reassured. ‘I thought they had both cared for me and that this special relationship I had with them would continue after I left this home.’ She moved to boarding school, and it was arranged that she could sometimes stay at the home on weekends, when Keith worked there.
‘I believed that the sexual incidences would stop with Keith after he had married but they did not. The opposite occurred. The only time he paid me any attention and I could feel close to him again was when I asked for sexual favours.
‘At the time it seemed like he was the only person who had taken any real interest in me and I could not let go of this relationship. So when I needed to feel that someone loved me and wanted me I would ask.’
Their sexual contact escalated, including Keith masturbating Kristen. One time he ‘placed the tip of his penis into my vagina being careful not to break my hymen so I remained a virgin ... It was important to him I remained a virgin. He said he was protecting me’.
She decided to end this relationship when she was 18. ‘I no longer felt special or cared for. I confronted him and told him we were having an affair and I wanted to stop it.’ This made Keith angry. ‘He refused to see it as an affair and insisted we were two friends helping each other out sexually.’
Kristen found a boyfriend, and this lasted a couple of years. During this time Keith asked her for sexual intercourse, as his wife was pregnant and ‘he felt he couldn’t push her to meet his sexual needs’.
He instructed her that ‘sex was a physical need we all feel and need filled, rather than an act of love’, and they had further sexual encounters. ‘If the things didn’t happen when I was 16, there’s no way I would have been that way inclined towards him at 19.’
By the time Kristen reached her early twenties, ‘I no longer believed in love but instead believed people just used each other for self-gratification’. Her mental health struggles increased. She attempted suicide, then ‘realised I didn’t really wish to die, and called for help’.
She contacted the home, and it was arranged for a priest to counsel her. This priest confronted Keith, who admitted having intercourse with Kristen when she was an adult, and resigned.
Kristen felt supported by the home, but then the woman who ran it suggested she should not tell her father about the abuse. This had a powerful impact on Kristen’s relationship with the Church.
‘I realised there was no such thing as love and that there was no loving Father God. There was only lies, deceit and using power and influence to manipulate people to your advantage. I realised that none of them believed in God because if they did they would have told the truth and not tried to cover this up.
‘Everything I had believed in was shattered. I felt humiliated and used. I blamed myself for being so stupid and naive ... I blamed that part of me for having trusted these people. I thought life was a joke and I was the biggest joke of all. I was filled with self-hatred. I felt too ashamed to tell my parents or anyone else of what had happened. I did not believe anything could be done about it.’
Kristen contemplated telling Keith’s wife about their sexual involvement, but ‘I decided I was luckier than her because at least I hadn’t married this arrogant, deceitful man’.
Some years later Kristen got married to a very supportive man. Still, ‘certain people or events would trigger memories and emotions. I tried to keep all of this contained yet I would be thrown into another depressive episode’. When she had her first child, ‘I seemed to be reliving my own birth experience,’ and she found it hard to believe anyone cared about her baby.
As well as seeing a psychiatrist, writing about her experiences has helped her process them.
‘My way of dealing with it, when I couldn’t talk about it, was to write about it. I retreated into my own separate little world.’
Her husband has remained supportive, although they have had some ‘hairy moments’. ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. He’s always been behind me to pursue it, to go and see a lawyer, to take it further. He’s been my rock. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it without his constant support.’
Kristen engaged legal representation to seek compensation from the Church. The Towards Healing process was frustrating and unhelpful. It was very difficult to even establish who was responsible for the home, or the real names of the workers at the time she was there. She found out that people she believed to have been nuns were in fact lay staff, and ‘I felt deceived by them’.
Finally the Church dismissed her claims that Keith had abused her sexually when she was a child, but accepted that sexual contact had occurred between them later on. They offered her counselling, but not a financial payment.
Kristen is considering further legal action, and trying to make peace with what has happened. ‘I have been trying to forgive these people in my past in order to be set free of these issues. At times I think I have.’