When Des told Lottie he had guns in his house she believed him – the bullet holes in the ceiling were all the proof she needed.
Des worked for a company which provided the bus service at the Christian church Lottie went to in Queensland, driving the children to and from Sunday school and youth group. He and his family were all members of the church, and Lottie thinks he held an ‘officer’ role in the congregation. His kids were at the school she attended, and he drove the bus for that too.
In the 1970s, when Lottie was 14 years old, one of Des’ daughters invited her to the family home on two occasions. Both times Des sexually abused Lottie.
After this, Lottie did not accept any further invitations, and so the abuse ended. As well as telling her about his collection of guns, Des followed Lottie in the bus a few times, driving slowly behind her in an attempt to intimidate her. ‘He threatened me if I ever told anybody, he would hurt my family.’
Lottie did not disclose the abuse at the time, because of these threats and also because she believed she had an obligation to be obedient to any adult connected to the church.
Des then made sexual advances towards Lottie’s mother. She discussed this with a friend, who warned her that she should watch out for her children around him. Concerned, she questioned Lottie and her siblings about Des, and at this point Lottie disclosed what he had done to her.
Lottie’s mother reported Des to Pastor Gregory at the church. Rather than contact police or other authorities, the pastor spoke to Des about the allegations.
Although Lottie’s mother had requested the matter be kept confidential, all of the church elders were advised. ‘So everybody in the church knew. And of course they had no disclosure regulations, they may be told to keep it quiet but they tell their wives, their wives tell everybody. Everybody knew. My mum went into hiding basically.’
A meeting was called between the elders and Des, who attended with his wife and children to try to prove he was a decent family man. This ‘made it absolutely public, and made me feel so humiliated because so many people knew about it and he declared his innocence, and he was the recognised figure’. Her mother was made out to be a liar and vilified, and the church took no action against Des.
The company Des worked for was not informed of these allegations, despite him being in regular contact with children when driving buses.
After this inadequate response from the church Lottie’s mother reported the matter to police. ‘The police turned up, two very big burly male officers, took me to a bedroom ... Told my mother she wasn’t allowed to be in the room, and at 14 interrogated me basically for two hours, until my mother knocked on the door and said “that’s enough, I want to be in the room”. They wouldn’t let her in the room. Two hours of big burly policemen basically telling me I was a 14-year-old tart. And that was the amount of support I got.’
Her mother dropped the police process because she did not want Lottie to have to go through this ordeal, and became depressed about not being able to help her child more. ‘She felt she could never deal with it. She just shut it down. Because there was just no support, it didn’t go well for anybody.’
Lottie believes that Des also sexually abused other children, and may have been responsible for a young girl who attended another church he belonged to becoming pregnant.
After the abuse Lottie struggled at school, before deciding she was not going to be beaten by what Des had done to her.
‘It put a sense of absolute determination for self-betterment within me, rather than the opposite ... I’m certainly not going to take less than what I can be. I’m going to be the best I can be to show people that they don’t need to treat me like that. And I now tell my children “it doesn’t matter what’s gone on, if you are determined enough you can do it”.’
In her 30s Lottie discovered Des was running a Sunday school for kids at another church, with a man who was found to be a paedophile. This caused her great concern and she engaged solicitors to write to this church and advise the pastor of what she knew. ‘And the word came back to me – “she’s just a woman with a gripe”.’
Although Lottie has been advised that Des is now deceased, she is considering speaking with police again to confirm this and also to determine what became of the original report she and her mother made. She is considering finding out what her options are regarding legal action against the church too. ‘They never took any notice ... Somebody should be answerable.’
Having a stable marriage and children has contributed to Lottie’s resilience. ‘I’ve never seen a counsellor, I’ve never seen anybody but those two big burly policemen who basically told me that I asked for it.’ Instead, ‘I would put it [the abuse] in perspective with the rest of my life’ and finds that with her kids ‘there’s just not time to go back and dwell on things’.
She maintains her strong Christian faith too. ‘I have told my children “we might go to church but you don’t look at everybody and think they’re wonderful”. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing everywhere you go, and I think churches are absolutely known for them. That’s just where you’ll find vulnerable people. Vulnerable people go to church, so people who prey on vulnerable people will also go to church. Which is sad.’