Martina was the youngest child in a Catholic family living in Sydney’s western suburbs in the 1950s. Both parents were born in eastern Europe, had limited English skills and were heavy drinkers. Martina’s father abused the children, which their mother knew about but did not try to stop.
When she was eight, Martina was sent to a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph and their parish priest, Father Gregory. The nuns were very cruel and dealt severe punishments to students for the slightest misdemeanour. Martina still has several scars from violence inflicted on her by the nuns.
On one very windy day the lid from a metal rubbish bin flew up in the air and hit a nun on the head. The children in the playground laughed at this but it was Martina who the Sister decided to punish, and sent her to visit Father Gregory.
Martina was alone with Gregory in the confessional where he undid his pants. After she confessed to the incident in the playground, he told her she was a ‘naughty girl’ and her penance was to touch his penis.
‘Well, I did what I was told but all I remember was I didn’t like it ... I was made to play with it for a while and I did that. And then I was made to actually lick it … He let me go out and the nun told me that if I was naughty again that the devil was going to come and get me. And I was so scared because I didn’t want the devil to get me.’
After that incident Martina was sexually abused by Gregory almost daily. Her two closest friends were also abused. Martina recalled an occasion when all three girls were sent to the confessional box one by one, and one by one they all came out crying.
‘Then he said to us, “You girls go out and play. You don’t tell nobody. I’m going to talk to God now. I’m going to talk to God and see what God wants me to do next”.
‘Every day it was a survival. And I thought, “I’ll be extra good today” because I didn’t want to go in there to the priest. But you know what, it doesn’t matter how good I was, I still ended up in there a lot.’
In addition to forcing Martina to masturbate and perform oral sex on him, Gregory digitally penetrated and eventually raped her in the church building.
‘I thought he put something inside me like a pencil. But it wasn’t, it was his finger. And God, the pain ... Then again I had to lick his penis. I had to do it. If I didn’t he was going to tell God, and God’s going to send the devil to come and get me, and take me into hell where I’m going to burn because I was very naughty.
‘He got me into the church. Nobody was there. Out the back, up the altar and around there to the side. And he started to have sex with me. And I tell you, I was stiff, I was eight. Oh God, I was eight, I was eight years old.
‘The priest started to try and have sex with me and all I can remember, I was laying down and he was telling me, “Now you be quiet, you don’t want to wake up Jesus” … And I’m laying there and he was trying to put his penis inside me and oh boy I tell you what, all I can remember – pain.’
Martina told the Commissioner that Gregory’s rape was more painful than childbirth.
One day when Martina was nine she left the confession box with blood running down her leg. ‘The nun saw me and she called me over really roughly. And she gave me a rag, she said, “Get in there and clean yourself up”. She said, “Don’t be so disgusting and don’t you come out of there till you’re cleaned up” ... And I didn’t do that. He did.’
Martina could not tell her parents about the abuse because they were often drunk and abusive themselves, and she couldn’t tell the nuns at school because they would call her ‘dirty’ and ‘disgusting’. But Martina believed that policemen were soldiers who could ‘fix anything’. Knowing what Gregory was doing was wrong, she saw a policeman and tried to explain what was happening to her.
‘He knelt down to my level, he looked right at me and he said to me, “You are a naughty, naughty little girl”. And I remember it, I’ll never forget it. I can see him now, the policeman. I wanted him to save me.’
The abuse continued until Martina left for high school. As a young adult, Martina became restless and unable to stay in the same job for very long despite enjoying the work. She had difficulty trusting people and had problems with intimacy.
‘It really does make you bitter and twisted … I don’t find much to smile about, there’s nothing to laugh about. I stick to myself, I like to be by myself. I don’t like too many people around me.
‘This is what it’s done to me. When I did have my first child, I didn’t know I was pregnant until I was five-and-a-half months pregnant. And I asked the doctor, “Please get it out of me, just get it out”.
'I wanted him to take it out of me, get it out because I was so filthy. I felt so disgusting. And today I still feel filthy. Although I shower three times a day I still feel filthy. I cannot get myself clean.’
Unable to care for her first child, Martina surrendered full care to the child’s father. That relationship ended and to this day she has never had any contact with her first born.
At age 19 Martina started receiving counselling and later became pregnant again. She had a second child who she was very protective of.
‘I made sure no-one, absolutely no-one went near him to have that chance to do something horrible to him.’ To this day she has a good relationship with her now adult son and his children.
Martina suffers from insomnia and has been prescribed sleeping tablets which only give her four hours of sleep every night. She has also tried to commit suicide on numerous occasions.
‘They really wrecked me, they really, really wrecked me.’
Martina has not sought compensation for the abuse because she couldn’t see what good it would do her. However, recently she has had a change of heart and believes she might be able to accomplish some good with any settlement received.
‘Because they did this to me, yes I will go for that claim. But you know what I want done with that money? I don’t want that filthy money. I don’t dare want it. But I’d like that money to go to the little boys and the little girls that are little children today. I want that money to go to them to help them. I don’t want no one going through to end up like this. I don’t want no-one to end up like me.’
Martina still receives counselling, which she said ‘makes you feel a bit better, especially you know someone believes you. And that’s so nice because no-one before believed you’.
‘I’m getting believed. It’s such a relief.’