Mathilda grew up in Sydney in the 1970s. When she was six her father died ‘suddenly and unexpectedly’ and the family was befriended by Father Paul Raymond, the local parish priest. Mathilda told the Commissioner, ‘I actually thought he was going to marry my mother because he seemed to be always at my house’.
Mathilda’s mother began to drink heavily and became violent and abusive. On the occasions she went into rehabilitation or mental health facilities, the children were separated and sent to stay with families from their church community.
Father Raymond began to sexually abuse Mathilda. In a written statement provided to the Royal Commission, Mathilda wrote, ‘The abuse did not begin immediately but there was, on reflection, a period of grooming, where he made me feel safe and comfortable with his presence, of his stroking my body, of sitting on his lap’.
Mathilda believes that Father Raymond ‘groomed the whole family’.
‘By making himself indispensable to the family, he not only covered up what he was doing, it made it difficult for me to disclose to them what he had done’.
The sexual abuse began when Mathilda was seven and continued until she finished primary school. Father Raymond abused Mathilda whenever he had a chance, such as when they were swimming in the family’s pool, or when he was ‘lying behind me under a blanket, my brothers and sisters also being there’.
Mathilda told the Commissioner that Father Raymond sexually abused her in the shower at their holiday house. He ‘was laughing, and saying it was a game … He made me feel that it was not naughty, that it was special’. The ‘game’ only stopped when Mathilda’s mother knocked on the door and asked why they were taking so long.
Mathilda didn’t understand what was going on, but she knew that she ‘didn’t like it. I felt … it became more difficult because if I wanted to pull away from it, he didn’t want me to … I was pressured into it, and I just felt uncomfortable with it. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I just didn’t like it at all’. Everyone told Mathilda that her family would fall apart without Father Raymond, so she ‘felt the need to make him happy, not angry with me’.
Mathilda told the Commissioner, ‘He was very powerful … at school and church … priests were the next step down from God. So they were all-powerful and special. So that was very much with me’.
Being a staunch Catholic, Mathilda thought, ‘If I could just be good enough my father would come back and rescue me, just like Jesus in the Bible brought people back to life. I just had to work out what I had to do so that he would bring my father back … but it just didn’t happen’.
When Mathilda tried to tell Sister Margaret, the principal at her Catholic primary school, what Father Raymond was doing, ‘She hit me with the cane really badly and was beating me, telling me that I need to stop what I was saying … [that] the only reason I was saying the things was for attention’.
Mathilda told the Commissioner, ‘Sister Margaret’s treatment of me … created further trauma and instilled in me an ongoing lack of self-worth, self-hate, questioning myself, who I am, and what I feel’. She never tried to tell anyone else about the abuse.
Mathilda has suffered severe physical and mental health issues throughout her adult life and has spent time in mental health institutions. On one occasion, when a male voice on the phone at work sounded like Father Raymond, it triggered flashbacks, and Mathilda became very distressed.
Mathilda has been speaking with a counsellor specialising in post-traumatic stress disorder and child sexual assault and this has ‘slowly helped me gain some trust and reassurance in myself … having my feelings and thoughts validated, being able to start to develop trust in my thoughts about what happened … being listened to and supported’.
She told the Commissioner, ‘When you are exposed to childhood trauma, it alienates you from yourself and starts a lifelong struggle to establish a sense of identity. I am hoping that by finally looking after myself and validating myself as a person of worth, I can have a life I want and be the person I want to be’.
Mathilda’s biggest fear was ‘being believed … the only time I went to someone … I wasn’t believed and so it just becomes inbuilt. So I feel, coming to the Commission, it sort of starts to validate. I feel believed and supported … I want to help people. I want to protect people. I do not want this to keep going on’.
Mathilda told the Commissioner that, ‘the setting up of the Royal Commission has raised awareness of the prevalence and impact of child sexual abuse. This is helping me to validate myself, and challenges people to treat survivors with respect rather than being judgemental’.