Growing up Mary was constantly staying with different relatives because her mother was working. In the late 1950s, when she was eight, her mother ‘sold’ her to two ladies that lived some distance away in regional Victoria. She was driven back to see her mother every Friday – and believes it was a test to see if her mother, who was known to be violent, had changed.
Mary was physically abused by her mother and her mother’s partner several times during these visits. On one occasion she was beaten, and her mother took her money and threw her out of the house.
A neighbour saw what happened and took Mary to the local Catholic parish. A Brother ‘told me, when I come back on my birthday, he would have a priest there to talk to me, to try and understand why my mother was doing what she was doing. So I said alright’.
On her birthday several weeks later the priest was at the house as promised. After another beating from her family Mary went to the outside laundry and cried. The priest watched the whole incident before following Mary into the laundry and trying to sexually abuse her.
‘He attacked me, he tore my top. He told me, “You’re being stupid, you have to get into the real world”. He was pushing himself into me and I punched him.’
Mary ran away screaming for help. Another neighbour saw her and took her to the police station. She disclosed what had happened with the priest, but all the policewoman said was, ‘Stop making up lies’.
Mary was charged with running away and being exposed to moral danger, and thrown into the cells. She didn’t understand the charges meant or why no one wanted to help her. The next day she was taken to court.
When she tried to explain that she wasn’t running away, but rather trying to report the priest, this was ‘swept under the carpet, and off I went’.
The next day a policeman took her to a girls’ youth training centre in another town, where she was stripped down by several workers who were all trying to see if she had tattoos. She was made to participate in an internal examination, which was humiliating and horrifying.
At the centre she was attacked by several girls in the shower, and kept in solitary for a week. Several workers took her into a room and made her spread her legs, but she fought back and screamed.
Sometime later Mary went back to court, and they told her she was going to a Catholic orphanage. She remembers sleeping there on a used mattress on the floor near the kitchen. This placement was not full time however, and she still spent time at the training centre.
When she was 15 she was sexually abused by a visiting priest at the orphanage. She couldn’t tell anyone in authority there what had happened, but she did tell her psychiatrist. ‘He told me that I was a frightened little girl and nobody would listen to me.’
In the late 1960s, Mary was dismissed from state care. She never completed her education and has found full time work to be stressful.
Mary doesn’t like being close to people and has had a few relationships which have all broken down. She constantly thinks of the abuse.
When she was in her 50s Mary reported the abuse to the Catholic Church. She was offered counselling but nothing more.
‘They said to me, “You can’t name the priest” … They treat you like you’re a criminal, and my friends. We’re not, we’re the victims.’