Luke Michael's story

For Luke the impacts of child sexual abuse were not only physical and psychological but spiritual as well. His Catholic faith, he said, is now fraught with internal struggle.

‘It’s healing and it’s painful. I am a subscriber to a Church that has rejected me as one of its victims … I doubt whether I could connect my faith to what has happened to me. I am struggling, as a 47-year-old, to make sense of anything that happened to me back then.’

Luke was sexually abused over an eight-year period, commencing in the early 1970s when he was a toddler. The perpetrators included his friend’s father and two Catholic priests, but the worst offender was a woman named Gladys Moore who worked at the church that Luke’s family attended in Melbourne.

Through a ‘handshake agreement’ with the Church authorities and Luke’s mother, Moore was recruited to look after Luke while his mother worked. Moore went on to sexually abuse Luke many times over the next few years. During this time, Luke was also sexually abused by Moore’s children.

For much of his life, Luke coped with the legacy of this abuse by burying his memories. It was such a successful coping strategy that, by his early 20s, Luke had almost no conscious memory of the abuse at all. But this didn’t stop it from affecting his life, particularly his relationships.

‘I did not trust. Love was family. Love was not a sexual experience, the sexual experience was not love. The sexual experience was about fear and domination and mistrust and evil.’

In his 30s he sought counselling and began a process of self-examination that eventually revived his memories of the abuse.

‘There’s a body memory that only makes itself known at critical times. And it was the feelings that I had about these people that led me to believe that those feelings were not appropriate for a child. There was a lot of different types of feelings: arousal, sexual attraction, fear, terror, dread, despair and suicidal thoughts. And running through all of the enormous range of sensation and feeling that was available to me at that small age, I reached the conclusion that I had been abused.’

Slowly Luke revived and reassembled his memories, like pieces of a ‘very slow, very big, very awful jigsaw puzzle’. When the picture finally formed he knew he needed to talk about it. He spoke to a friend and then to his sister, and then decided to go to the police.

Reporting to the police was a positive experience, Luke said. ‘Like having a boulder lifted off me.’ None of the people who abused Luke have yet been charged but the case is ongoing.

Luke now relies on his counsellor and his wife to provide him with the support he needs. He still finds it hard to accept help but he’s working to change that.

‘It’s a stark choice’, he said. ‘You heal or you die. It’s that simple.’

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