Lorna’s mother had an intellectual disability, and Lorna and her siblings were placed in care in Queensland in the mid-1970s, for ‘child neglect’. Lorna was nine and she felt ‘very scared, actually. They were actually going to remove [my brother] on his own and I’m very close to [him] and I still remember saying, “You take him, you take me as well”, but I’m led to believe they were meant to take both of us anyhow.’
Before the children were placed in care, the family was often visited by the parish priest who had performed the parents’ marriage ceremony.
‘I can’t remember when it started, but he started having an affair with my mum, a sexual affair, and a year before I went into care, he just took it upon himself to start molesting me … I hid that from the family for many years. [I] didn’t want to upset my grandparents or my father.’
Lorna’s mother knew what the priest was doing. ‘She begged him to leave me alone and he just totally ignored her. My mum, with her intellectual disability, I don’t think she knew where else to turn … She was a prisoner in her own home, you could say, because of the way the community treated her.’
Just before Lorna’s mother died she contacted one of Lorna’s old teachers, who encouraged them to approach the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing scheme. When they did, it was suggested that they begin legal proceedings against the priest.
‘It was my mum that got the ball rolling to get him taken to court. She started that and then died a week later.’ After Lorna went to the police, the priest was charged and pled guilty. Lorna doesn’t believe that the short sentence he received was enough, ‘but I was thankful he got that’.
She found the legal process difficult, but ‘I had a great police officer. Every time I said to him, “I can’t do this anymore”, he reminded me of my mum. So he’s the one that kept me going’.
After she was taken from her family, Lorna spent time in foster care and two children’s homes where she was physically and emotionally abused, and witnessed the sexual abuse of many of the other girls.
Lorna told the Commissioner, ‘I haven’t got a nice thing to say about [my cottage parents at one of the homes] … Back then, women were screened as house parents, but males weren’t … [He] used to stand behind us with horse whips and as soon as we did the least littlest thing wrong, we’d cop it off him.
‘I remember him picking out one girl and it was a full-on sexual relationship and we were told if we went near that room, he would kill us.’
Although Lorna was not sexually abused at this home, ‘sex between house father and kids was very rampant’. At least one of the girls at the home became pregnant to the house father, and some of the older boys would frequently rape the younger girls.
The physical, emotional and sexual abuse Lorna experienced as a child have had a huge impact on her adult life. She began drinking as a teenager, but gave it up when she had her first child at 19. Lorna said her husband has ‘put up with a lot’.
‘I’ve got my trust issues. I’ve been left with bad depression … I’m always fighting depression. I still get angry when I look back on how my family were treated … I’m still over-protective, now with my [children] and grandchildren … The list goes on … I’m a very good one at sabotaging friendships. I’ll get rid of them before they can hurt me.’
Lorna had a friend in the home who she was particularly close to. ‘We called ourselves adopted sisters.’ Her friend was repeatedly raped by the cottage father and a number of boys in the home. ‘She went through hell … Then when she left the home, she went through more torture because … she wasn’t in a good space, so she lost custody of her young son … The list just went on for her.’
Lorna came to the Royal Commission for ‘my mum [and] my friend … who passed away. She did not come forward and it broke my heart because she was really abused in care and then she didn’t get the chance … I was trying to talk her into it but she felt she would’ve went backwards, and I’m just now reached a point in my life … I feel that children don’t have rights in this country … I like to think my grandkids will have their rights and that is, the right to feel safe’.
Lorna told the Commissioner, ‘I feel that no one really understands what we’ve been through unless they’ve walked our shoes … One thing I will say is all my past and that has made me a pretty strong-willed person. I have survived all these years. I try to see the positives now instead of the negatives and I think that’s what’s got me through’.