‘I guess for me, it’s never been acknowledged ... I felt like I was making a mountain out of a molehill, I’ve always felt like I’m just making something out of nothing.’
Marjorie was a bright and happy child when she began attending a Pentecostal school in suburban Melbourne. It was the early 1980s, and Marjorie was six years old.
Her preparatory teacher, Jack Connor, started sexually abusing Marjorie immediately. He would sit Marjorie on his knee, and fondle her genital area, rubbing himself against her.
The abuse always happened in the classroom with other children present. Despite knowing Connor’s behaviour was wrong, Marjorie was confused by the fact that nobody else ever reacted to it.
Connor taught Marjorie until third grade, abusing her daily during this time. She knew he was also molesting one of her classmates.
‘If you were one of the ones singled out, he would treat you really well. He was quite mean to the other kids. So in a way it was kind of like a reward for having to put up with what he was doing, because you got treated a little bit better.’
Marjorie told her mother about Connor’s abuse, and ‘she just told me that he was being nice and friendly’. Her friend’s mother complained to the school about the abuse of her own daughter several times, but nothing was done to stop Connor until much later.
Marjorie thinks it was hard at the time for people to recognise and address child sexual abuse, ‘particularly in a religious environment ... you just put a lot of faith in the fact that these staff are Christians’.
The abuse ended for Marjorie when she moved to a different class with a different teacher. She stayed at the school until Year 10 but Connor was always there in the background. It seemed the school suspected Connor’s offending by then, and put parents into the classroom with him so he was not alone with students.
When Marjorie was 16, allegations that Connor had sexually abused other students, both boys and girls, became public. Her mother then asked her if she wanted to take action, but she decided not to.
Her studies suffered, and her self-confidence crashed. ‘It seems after that I just wasn’t a good student ... I just didn’t have any faith in my intelligence, and I carried that pretty much with me my whole life.’
Her Christian faith was affected for a while and she found it hard to trust others. She began to comfort-eat as a coping strategy, ‘I remember just saying, “Why do I eat the way I do, why do I have so many issues with my weight?”’
As the abuse wasn’t acknowledged by her mother or anyone else, Marjorie found it hard to recognise the impacts it had. ‘Obviously the way that I lived my life showed that something had happened, but I wasn’t aware of what the trauma effects are on a child.’
In her 20s she became very promiscuous, often dating people who were not good for her.
‘I can see, with the men that I’ve chosen ... there was a lot of going out with really messed up guys, feeling like that was all I deserved. And a bit of a rescuing sort of thing as well. Because I couldn’t rescue myself, try and rescue everyone else.’
Marjorie recently reported the abuse to police. This was a terrible experience for her. The detective she spoke with told her bluntly she would need to provide specific dates and times that the abuse happened, or they could not investigate it.
‘I got off the phone and thought, well that’s pointless, I can’t fabricate details that I don’t remember. I was six years old.’ The same detective called her some time later, and was more understanding and supportive. By then, Marjorie was ‘over it’ and decided not to proceed.
Marjorie is aware that Connor has been charged and convicted for child sexual offences, and is disgusted by the short sentences he received. ‘I thought, what’s the point of pursuing it anyway? He gets two years and that’s it. It’s so tokenistic.’ She is also still very disappointed and angry that her mother did not try to protect her: ‘I guess for me, my process is more about forgiving my Mum.’
Marjorie has only recently told her long-term partner about the abuse, and he supported her when she spoke with the Royal Commission. She registered with the Commission to have her experiences recognised, and says that sharing her story has ‘given my trauma a place’.
A year ago, Marjorie started working with a specialised trauma therapist. This treatment is expensive, so she can only have the 10 sessions a year available on her mental health plan. She would benefit from seeing her therapist more frequently.
‘He was the first person to say, “You’ve got early childhood trauma”. Everything that I tell him, he’s like “That’s part of what you’ve been through”. He’s really articulated all the things that I’ve never been able to actually understand about myself.’
They have not discussed the abuse itself in great depth, but ‘we’ve talked about how the brain works with trauma ... I can recognise when I am having triggers of stuff’. She is now learning how to cope with the things that have happened to her.
‘I never grew healthy structures of how to deal with things because it was stunted. It’s like I’m reprogramming myself, how to respond healthily.’