‘I was made to feel a troublesome woman who … should know better.’
Liz came to the Commission with her son, Brett, to share their experiences of reporting child sexual abuse within the Anglican Church. Liz completed her theological studies within Australia, and she and her family lived on church property throughout her course. During that time, Liz’s family became friendly with another student who lived next door.
Over a period of months in the 1990s her 14-year-old son, Brett, was groomed by the neighbour.
‘We didn’t know what had gone on. He threatened [Brett] not to tell … I didn’t know all that. All I knew was that my son had changed from this very outgoing kid who loved life … I thought this was how boys were around that age … I didn’t know.’
The man bought expensive gifts and encouraged Brett in his hobbies, regularly spending time with him each week. Brett was abused a number of times a week for about six months. At one point, Liz discovered that Brett had been given a sexually suggestive and inappropriate gift. She complained to the archdeacon who told Liz he would show it to the bishop.
‘I thought because the bishop had seen that [gift] … surely he would alert the principal [of the college] to that and some disciplinary action would happen with [the man] but nothing seemed to happen. [The man] was … obsessive even then to get in contact with [my son] …
‘From then we tried to protect, Brett. Told the man he wasn’t allowed any contact. We told the boy he wasn’t allowed any contact. It was so hard to monitor … If the man was missing from community meals … one of the family would rush down … and we caught him a couple of times banging on [our front] door.’
Liz sent Brett to boarding school but the man continued to contact Brett, sending letters and gifts, without Liz knowing. The man’s interest gradually waned but he still had a hold over Brett. When Brett was about 18 years old, the man contacted him out of the blue. Brett experienced a panic attack because he became fearful he was again being pursued. He then told Liz about the abuse. Liz alerted the archdeacon because at the time the man was still associated with the Anglican Church. She then rang the police.
Brett told the Commissioner he gave a statement to local police but the detective seemed uninterested in his case. At the same time Liz was pursuing the matter through the Church. She was advised by the bishop ‘that we mustn’t alert the man … in case there was [an investigation]’.
Time passed with no action being taken by the Church but Liz assumed that local church authorities had followed the required internal procedures and reported the man’s behaviour to the appropriate body.
‘I believed until [the mid-2000s] that the diocese had reported all that stuff about the man … through the Department of Professional Standards, I thought even if they didn’t take action, there would be a file there on him.’
Liz discovered there was no material sent to Professional Standards and that diocesan authorities had decided that, ‘We don’t have to worry about this case, it’s never going to get to court’. The offender remained engaged with the Church throughout this time.
‘The confusion I have … surely, giving a minor that graphic [gift] within the procedure of the diocese is as bad as showing him pornography. And why wasn’t he disciplined? Why was he allowed to stay on college?’
There was no progress being made by the police either. A year after Brett gave his statement, Liz, ‘marched into [the] police station because I couldn’t get him on the phone and I wanted to know what was happening, and nothing was happening.
‘When you’re a mother and you ring up and you speak to the person you’ve been told to speak to and they try to fob you off … and [then] you haven’t heard anything for ages, you think, “Sod, this, I’m going to [the] police station”, and that’s what I did, and there’s this great poster up there about reporting sexual abuse. I was sitting there steaming.’
Many months passed and then Brett received a phone call from the detective asking him to provide another statement. It has never been explained to Brett why this happened.
‘To me it was almost like it was two separate cases. The first … I spoke to the detective [and] I saw nothing really happened. And then once I’d gone [again] … I basically had to do a whole new statement with another detective, so it was almost like these two separate cases. I still don’t understand why.’
Three years after they had reported the abuse to police the matter progressed. Liz told the Commissioner that she believes, ‘If you want to get results you have to push’.
‘I pushed the buttons constantly. I was a very angry lady and I still am to a certain degree. If I hadn’t been pushing buttons constantly with the police, I don’t think we’d have got far.’
The man was charged and convicted and spent time in jail. Throughout the trial he was supported by a member of the Anglican Church who was ‘dressed in his clergy garb’. Both Liz and Brett felt this ‘was kind of like a slap in the face’, especially as ‘we weren’t offered any support’ from the Church. The DPP social worker and the prosecution team generally, though, ‘were absolutely brilliant’.
Brett received victims of crime compensation as well as a redress settlement which included provision for counselling. He requested these services be provided by an external service because he ‘wasn’t comfortable’ with the services originally offered by the Church. He wanted a public apology but never received one.
Liz remains active in the Church but said, ‘I’m angry at the Church … and at times that’s difficult’. She is very aware that the Anglican Church’s systems have not changed.
‘I’m still suffering because of all this stuff and, you know, working within the system which gets it so continually wrong ... As far as I’m concerned the law of the land has to make something happen in churches so that they are accountable for this stuff.’