Madelaine was sexually abused by teachers at three schools, and by a church pastor – but these incidents, though traumatic, barely registered. Not compared with the hell at home.
‘My father first had sexual intercourse with me at the age of four,’ Madelaine said in a prepared statement to the Royal Commission. ‘He raped me with a rifle, he used dogs in sexual abuse and he regularly issued death threats.’
Madelaine said her father led a ‘paedophile ring’. She named three men who, in company with her father, raped her at various times and made pornographic films of her until her early 20s.
When she was 10, Madelaine joined a youth group at a Brisbane Lutheran church.
‘While I was waiting for my parents to pick me up, the pastor put his big hands in my pants and in my vagina … He said I had been a good girl and this was what God wanted.
‘On numerous separate occasions, in areas near the kindergarten, I was rubbing his penis. No one was told. I was so young and didn’t have anyone to tell – and at the same time I was thinking it was normal, particularly because much more terrible things were going on at home.’
During the same period in the 1980s, Madelaine was molested at her state school: ‘The music teacher … touched my vagina during a one-on-one lesson.’
More assaults followed her move to high school, where the principal was a friend of her father. ‘This man asked me if I was a good driver and did I want to drive? He sat me on his lap while he had an erection and pushed me off again when he couldn’t stabilise my hand on his penis. Then I remember him holding down the back of my head, forcing me to give him oral sex.’
During a visit to the principal’s house, ‘I remember being on the trampoline and having terrible pains in my stomach and lower area. Then I saw a large amount of blood on my jumpsuit’.
Madelaine, aged 13, had suffered a miscarriage. ‘He told me to have a shower … I didn’t understand what was happening.’
Around this time she began a life-long practice of self-harming: ‘I was cutting myself with compasses and sharp scissors.’
After moving to another school, 15-year-old Madelaine fought back against a teacher who had grabbed her from behind, ‘putting his hands on the front of my skirt near my vagina, while he pushed my hips into his body where I felt he had an erection which was pressing into my bottom. I kicked him in the shins’.
But resistance led to more trouble. Dragged by an ear to the principal’s office, she was forced to wait outside while her assaulter explained he had been assaulted. ‘I entered the office, told her what had happened and she said, “Why would I take your word over the word of a teacher?”’
Madelaine had no one to turn to. ‘My mother was fully aware of my father’s sexual abuse after walking in on him raping me. She stood in the doorway, appeared to start crying – and then walked off back to bed … Mother knows that it happened in her head and in her heart – if she’s got a heart – but she will never acknowledge it to anyone.’
Then, miraculously, Madelaine found a teacher at a Gold Coast school in whom she could confide. ‘I was encouraged to come to her office at any time. I wasn’t able to give much detail due to the horrendous crimes that were happening at home and my high degree of disassociation. Most of the time I was only able to talk to her through written notes.’
And then after some months, the secretary came in carrying Madelaine’s latest notes. The teacher had left them on the photocopier: ‘I was trusting her with my life and all that had gone down the drain.’
A few days later Madelaine tried to end her life with pills she found at home. This led to the Child Safety Services Unit becoming involved – but Madelaine’s mother convinced them there was nothing to fear. Madelaine begged her not to reveal the incident to her father – and was promptly betrayed. Her father’s response was to ‘place some rat poison on my tongue while he raped me, saying if I yelled out the poison would fall down my throat and kill me’.
By this stage, Madelaine’s mental health was fragmenting. Her behaviour became so strange that staff arranged a visit to a psychiatrist – without informing her parents. But once again, months of slowly building confidence were destroyed when her parents were confronted with the allegations.
After her father convincingly played the loving, concerned parent, he took Madelaine home ‘and tried to strangle me in the laundry after forcing me to give him oral sex’.
Now in her mid-forties, Madelaine has led a troubled adult life. However, in recent years she has found a psychiatrist who has helped her find some stability; he came to support her at the Royal Commission.
Looking back she said tersely, ‘My father is a psychopath … And, unfortunately, during my time through these schools I made connections with people that were very unhealthy. They were based on just me wanting to love someone, or be loved, and it left me very vulnerable. So I used to blame myself for that – but I think I realise now that it wasn’t my fault, it was the way they took advantage’.
Just as she was about to leave Madelaine said, ‘I’ve got a poem I made up years ago … do you want to hear it? “If no one knows, how do you tell? And if no one hears, how loud do you yell?”
‘I’ve been trying to yell for many years. That’s why speaking here today is so important.’