Maureen Ellen's story

Maureen grew up in Queensland in the 1940s. Her mother’s side of the family had been
Quakers for generations, and her maternal grandfather was an elder in their community.

‘I still don’t have a lot of memories from childhood, but … I [remember] I went to school in a horse and buggy.’

Maureen blocked out the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her grandfather, but the memories started to come back when she was in her early 40s. The abuse began when she was about three, and continued until she was 14 or 15.

At first it occurred at home, but when she was eight or 10 her grandfather started taking Maureen on outings. They would stop at the Quaker meeting house on the way back, where the abuse continued beyond the fondling it had been at home.

‘He was a trusted elder and I find the abuse in the meeting house was the hardest for me to take because people trusted him and even though I can’t remember things he said, I always knew as a child, that if I told anybody, I would be punished by Jesus.’

Maureen thought that she ‘couldn’t even die, because my grandfather and Jesus would stand side by side and tell me I was a liar and I’d done something really bad and I’d done an unforgivable … sin, which is in the Bible, but I can never find it. That sort of thing, you know. That was why it was most harmful. I had to fight to get my spirituality back’.

When Maureen was being sexually abused at home, her mother and grandmother would be in the kitchen, oblivious to what her grandfather was doing to her in the bedroom.

‘There wasn’t anybody I could actually tell … I just had the impression it was something I had to do, like you have to eat your vegetables, therefore there’s no point talking to my mum because this is something I have to do. I can’t complain to Mum I don’t want to eat my carrots, so how could I say anything to them? They were talking in [the kitchen] as he was there, so I thought it was okay, it was part of life.’

Maureen developed severe mental health issues as a result of the abuse. The psychiatrist she’s been seeing for 12 years is very supportive, but ‘I have my times when it hits me hard. I am surprised at the intensity of the pain that hits me at times, but I’m also pleasantly surprised that I can get over it faster and faster than I used to’.

Maureen told the Commissioner, ‘The damage it does to a child is really severe. I still suffer this. I still go through things that, if this hadn’t happened – I wouldn’t have married, first of all, one man that was physically abusive … I wouldn’t have left him and married someone who was a paedophile … I wouldn’t have married my third husband … I think I had a sign, “Abuse me here” …

‘I know I can’t change things. What I have to do is make the best and I’ve found, and I don’t mean to sound like a Pollyanna, because there’s times when I cry and I’m really upset, but I have found through meditation and helping myself that no matter what happens, there’s always something good in it and if I can find that, that gets me through.’

Maureen decided after many years that she wanted to return to the Quakers. ‘I decided really that I had a choice. I could either wallow in this and let him win or I could take charge and row my own boat, and that’s what I’ve decided to do. And I really wanted to, because my faith meant a lot to me and I felt he’d taken it from me.’

Because she worked so hard to get her faith back, Maureen thought, ‘This is going to happen. He’s not going to take any more off me than he’s already taken, and with the help and support from people that I’ve let into my life and my wonderful psychiatrist, I’ve come there. I’ve got there. But there’s things that turn around and hit me, and I’ve just learnt to deal with them’.

Maureen came to the Royal Commission because, ‘Out of all this shit … something can happen where I can perhaps be one little voice helping other people … [I] hesitated at first … It’s not like I was brought up in an orphanage or whatever, and then I thought … all [the Commission] can do is say no’.

If Maureen can feel that she’s played just a miniscule role it will make her happy.

‘I just really want other kids not to go through this. It’s not fair, and it’s cruel, and it ruins your life.’

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