‘My family split up when I was about five years old. We were put into orphanages. I believe the basis was something to do with my father. Whether it was because of what was happening to me I’m not sure.’
Maude was born in New South Wales into a large Catholic family. ‘Mum was a very devout Catholic. We went to the local Catholic schools and church on Sunday wasn’t a choice.’ She doesn’t recall when it started, but from a young age her father started sexually abusing her. Although it was never explicitly stated, Maude believes this was the reason for her parents’ separation in the mid-1950s.
While their parents addressed their marital issues, the children were temporarily sent to orphanages. Maude was sent to an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. In addition to living in unfit conditions, Maude was abused by a female staff member who performed oral sex on her. And when her father came to visit her he took the opportunity to sexually abuse her too.
‘My father came to see me there and they put me into a room, a visiting room, but they left me with him there in the room. And now I know that should not have happened.’
Several years later, Maude’s parents reunited and the children returned to the family home. Maude was 12 years old when her father experienced a mental breakdown, was given electro-convulsive therapy and later died. Although his death brought Maude some relief, it meant that her mother was now a single parent of many children. The family moved into a public housing unit where they survived on very little money. It was there that the family received regular visits from Father Neville Lucas, a local priest.
‘We didn’t have many visitors come because we were very poor and we were just flat out. It was a small four bedroom housing commission home. And for anybody to show any attention to us was pretty special …
‘He would come and we’d have prayer sessions there. And then we started to do little concerts for him. You know, as kids you wanted to show off and do puppet shows and things. And he became more frequent coming. He would come and he’d be standing behind me or sitting behind me.’
It wasn’t long before Lucas started giving Maude particular attention, which quickly escalated to sexual abuse. ‘Every chance that he got he would be touching me, but he would put his hand down my front and things like that … Even now I think if I had gone to Mum and told her, I think because of the thing with my father I don’t know whether she would’ve believed me or whether she just couldn’t.’
Lucas would often take the children on outings, such as picnics, and would use the opportunity to molest Maude. ‘I used to tell Mum I was sick, I had something. And she’d push me to go, so we would all go.’ Lucas would warn Maude not to tell her mother about the abuse because it would be worrying for her. This, coupled with the belief that she was to blame for her parents’ earlier separation, made Maude terrified of disclosing.
‘Because of the guilt I am sure in my heart of hearts that going to the orphanage, the family breakup, was to do with me ... So that meant that our whole family had to endure things because of that. And there was no way I was going to do that again by telling Mum. But by the same token, I don’t think she would’ve believed. I don’t think she could have comprehended. Her prayer sessions were her answer to everything.’
Eventually Lucas raped Maude in the garden shed and afterwards told her that if she told anyone it would cause ‘big trouble’ for her mother. Maude lived in fear that she would become pregnant, and refused to attend any more outings with Lucas. ‘I tolerated his touching me, but after he raped me I wouldn’t be alone anywhere with him.’ After Lucas no longer had access to Maude, he stopped visiting the family. Because Maude was uneducated about sex, she felt dirty and alone with no one to confide in.
In the years that followed, Maude’s behaviour drastically changed and by the time she was 14 her mother placed her in a girls’ reform institution. When she was released at 16, Maude and her mother became estranged and Maude moved to the city where she found clerical work. She married but her husband was violently abusive. After he threatened her with a carving knife, Maude left her husband and moved interstate.
Later in life Maude started counselling and for the first time disclosed everything. She regrets not reconnecting with her mother and explaining what had happened. ‘I’m dealing with it now. I haven’t talked to my daughters … I want to talk to my children because, with Mum having passed away, I never cleared the air with her. Now I can’t.’
As a result of her childhood sexual abuse, Maude has experienced damage to her sense of identity, leading to trust and intimacy issues followed by a series of destructive relationships. Eventually she had several relationships with ‘good’ men, resulting in healthy children who are now adults with children of their own.
Maude believes that children should have access to a counsellor they feel comfortable approaching should they be in any danger of abuse.
‘I know with my grandchildren and I know with my children at school, if they wanted to see the school counsellor she was either not available or she was totally booked out or she was going to a whole heap of schools so you had to wait for a certain week. So if children are being abused and they finally did get the confidence to come forward to talk, they need to be able to do it there and then.’
Currently Maude is in a stable and supportive relationship. She never reported her abusers to the police nor sought compensation but may consider doing so in the future. She goes through waves of acceptance of what happened offset by moments of re-traumatisation.
‘I think I closed doors on things but it was like Pandora’s Box. I thought I was okay with my life and I just blocked it and just kept moving forward. I keep very busy … I think maybe one day I can close the door and know that [I] dealt with it.’