Eight year-old Margo knew instinctively that what Mr Peters was doing to her was wrong. She felt it in her gut. So she fought back, kicking at him and screaming for help as he dragged her into the church or his garage.
But as the months went by and the abuse continued, Margo began to wonder if maybe her gut was wrong. After all, if what Mr Peters was doing was so bad then why didn’t anyone stop him? They all knew what he was up to.
‘It was common knowledge in the church parish,’ Margo said, ‘that Peters fiddled with little kids. Everybody knew it … When I did try and tell people what had happened the response was, “You must remember … he’s old and he’s sick and he’s going to die soon”’.
Peters was a ‘stalwart’ of the Anglican church that Margo attended in Sydney in the 1960s. As her Sunday school teacher he was able to access her alone every weekend, and later several times a week as well. Over a three-year period he abused her dozens of times, including oral and vaginal rape.
Margo asked herself over and over: why is he allowed to do such awful things to me? Eventually she found an answer, and it’s stuck with her like a ‘disease’ ever since:
‘I believe that I am unworthy of God … that I’m unworthy of safety and protection, that I’m unworthy of love’.
The impact of this disease has included ‘post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide attempts, dissociation, issues with drug and alcohol, issues with poor eating because I don’t believe I’m worth feeding’.
Margo often feels suspicious of her own instincts, and this leaves her vulnerable to exploitation. If she meets someone and feels in her gut that they are dangerous, her brain will immediately override this instinct, encouraging her to put her worries aside and be sympathetic to the person’s needs.
She has always been the strong and selfless one, the ‘big shoulders’ that her family and friends rely on. Because she’s forever carrying them, no one thinks to carry her. Ahead of Margo’s session with the Royal Commission she broke down when someone asked her if she’d like to bring along a support person.
‘I don’t have anyone’, she said. Most of her friends would be ‘gob smacked’ to discover that she’d been abused as a child and was suffering ongoing trauma.
Fortunately Margo has been able to share her story with some good counsellors over the years, and they’ve provided her some support. In the mid-2000s she felt strong enough to approach the Anglican Church. She told her story to the Archbishop and received a compensation payment of $75,000. Margo was pleased with the process. In particular, her meeting with the Archbishop helped her to make some progress psychologically.
‘That shifted things a little bit. I remember saying to the Archbishop that I’d always felt like I was about as worthy as the bit of dirt that’s stuck in the tread in your shoe, that that’s kind of my self-worth. And he seemed to find that quite distressing. And so, I think that my self-worth probably elevated a little bit as a result.’