Life in a Lutheran boarding school was lonely for Melanie, whose childhood had been spent mostly on her parents’ farm helping to raise her younger siblings.
‘Within weeks of my 15th birthday in Year 10, a senior pastor who was also a sex education teacher started sexually abusing me. When he tried to penetrate me and couldn’t he said, “Girls like you have very strong hymens and need to be surgically cut”. He told me he could arrange it with a doctor. I was absolutely petrified.’
After suffering months of abuse, Melanie attempted suicide by overdosing on painkillers. She was referred to a psychiatrist.
‘I threatened to tell my psychiatrist about the abuse, but the pastor laughed and said nobody would believe me over him. He always went with me to the appointments and went in first, by himself. I became paranoid thinking he and my psychiatrist were planning something, so I kept my mouth shut about the abuse.’
‘The pastor lived on the school campus, and arranged for me to stay with him and his wife, saying he’d be able to keep a better eye on me that way. He was abusing me every day, and I suspect his wife knew what was going on but chose not to do anything about it.’
In the early 1980s, Melanie told the headmaster and a senior Church official that she’d been sexually abused by the pastor and demanded that they remove him from the school and keep him away from children. She said ‘nothing was done’. At the end of that year, Melanie cut herself with a razor in a second attempt to take her own life.
‘My parents never understood, they thought the pastor was so kind. My dad would give him meat and fuel to repay him for taking an interest in me.’
Melanie refused to return to school, and with her family relationships in tatters was left with little choice but to support herself.
‘I ended up selling myself for a few months, then met and married my husband when I was still quite young. He’s been very abusive towards me throughout our marriage. I went straight from one abusive situation to another, but I am very proud of the … beautiful children we’ve raised, and they know about my past.’
In the 2000s, Melanie reported the abuse to the police and the pastor was arrested, charged and committed to stand trial.
‘He admitted having sex with me, but argued I was over 16 and had consented. The jury found him not guilty, it was one of the worst days in my life. All the hell I went through over those years, and he walked free.’
A month after the trial, Melanie accepted a written apology from the Lutheran Church and its offer to pay for her psychological treatment. She also received $40,000 in compensation.
‘They showed me a letter written by the pastor admitting all he’d done to me, and apologising to the Church. I wasn’t allowed to take a copy, and just seeing it made me feel sick to my stomach. I wonder how many other girls he freely abused while the Church stood by and did nothing.’