In the 1960s Margaret and her siblings attended a Salvation Army Church in suburban Adelaide. Envoy Menzies was an elderly widower at the church who taught Sunday School and also gave Margaret music lessons on Saturday mornings. The church community considered him a lovely, harmless old man. He always had coins and lollies in his pockets to give to children, and tried to give her wet, sloppy kisses on the lips when he greeted her.
‘I was a late physically developing child’, Margaret told the Commissioner, ‘brought up in a home where sex education was non-existent, and therefore quite naive about puberty, sex, what was right and what was wrong.’
One afternoon when she was 12 years old Margaret was alone with Menzies in the church building. He suddenly picked her up and took her into the Sunday School room, pinning her down on a trestle table with one arm. He pulled her dress up and her underwear down, and inspected Margaret’s private parts.
‘I remember that I was in complete shock and frozen so I did not struggle as he had me fairly well pinned down. He then kissed me on the top of my vagina near my pubic bone and said, “Oh, you are growing up”.’ Menzies rearranged her clothes and then allowed her to stand. ‘This is when he produced a new, shiny 20 cent coin and gave it to me and said not to tell.’
‘I reckon I put my coat on to go home and I didn’t really need it because I was just burning up with humiliation, shame.’
Margaret did not tell. She was too embarrassed to speak to her parents about the abuse. But she had a strong sense that what had happened was not right. Margaret had a way of dealing with it – she refused to go back to Sunday School or to music lessons. She remembers getting into fights with her parents over this, though they never asked her why she was suddenly reluctant to go. Her mother relented. ‘I guess after the first few tantrums from me she basically let it go.’
‘I now know that refusing to go back to church and music lessons was my way of protecting myself.’
Margaret saw Menzies again a few years later at her high school when he came to give scripture classes. ‘He still gave children coins, lollies and apples from his pockets.’ At her request Margaret’s father wrote the school a letter to exempt Margaret from the scripture class.
A few years later Margaret’s mother brought the news Menzies had died. ‘I just thought, “He’ll be meeting his maker and he’ll be going to hell”.’
At the time of the abuse Margaret felt humiliated and ashamed. She now feels very fortunate that it occurred only once before her own protective behaviours kicked in and she refused to see Menzies again. She believes the abuse taught her to be careful, and perhaps risk averse. Otherwise Margaret downplays the impact on her. ‘It probably affected me for a few months, but then I must’ve put it in a back pocket in the brain.’
‘I just wake up every day and if it’s a good day and I can stand up and breathe – get on with it.’
Margaret came to the Royal Commission to help protect other children from being sexually abused in the future. She believes music lessons need guidelines. Teachers should come to the family home where there is supervision, or lessons should be conducted in groups.
Margaret also advocates ‘protective behaviour’ classes for small children through the education system. This should include an understanding of the boundaries around everyone’s private parts and of the way to tell trusted people when something bad has happened.
‘Back then we didn’t even know you could go to the police about such stuff. There was no education, there was never any discussion.’