Marcelle is a teacher who fears there is a widespread misconception that child abuse is rare or unusual these days. Marcelle was abused by her mother and stepfather from a very young age, and placed into foster care with the Warlow family in country Western Australia.
‘The Warlows were absolutely horrible. My foster mother was being paid to look after me, but she didn’t spend anything on me. They fed me tripe until it was coming out of my ears.’
In the mid-1960s, Marcelle was moved to a nearby Catholic home. She recalls physical abuse being part of daily life.
‘The nuns were horrendous, especially to children like me who didn’t have parents visiting them. I got belted a lot. One day I was left covered in welts after being beaten with a wire coat hanger for taking two apples instead of one.
‘I was all alone there with no one to protect me, and desperate for someone to come and see me. I thought all my Sundays had come at once when the Catholic priest visited.’
The priest was left alone with Marcelle on several occasions, and he would fondle the 14-year-old’s breasts and make her touch him.
‘I was just shattered after that, and my self-esteem plummeted. It was a big deal for a priest to visit the home, because priests were like gods. I was filled with hope and excitement until I realised he wasn’t there to offer me solace. Of course I couldn’t tell the nuns because I would have been beaten for lying.’
In spite of her traumatic childhood, Marcelle went on to study at university and pursue a teaching career.
With counselling, Marcelle counts herself lucky for having forged what she sees as a good life, but childhood memories are never far away.
‘It took me five years to tell someone about the priest molesting me. It was a very difficult thing to say but it was an important part of the healing process for me, which still continues now.’