When Merran was molested as a child, at a camp run by her primary school, she blocked the memory so effectively that she forgot it for over two decades. In a written statement she provided to the Commissioner, she recalls the impact this had.
‘I clearly remember my parents asking if anyone had touched me whilst I was there.'
‘I clearly remember the emotions and a strange feeling coming over me when I replied no. It felt like lying but also I felt at the same time that it wasn’t a lie … lying would become a part of my very nature from this moment on' …
‘This violation led to 22 years of lying, several severe drug addictions … four serious attempted suicides, hurting people whom I loved and loved me and general destructive behaviour all whilst maintaining a somewhat normal and productive life to anyone casually looking.’
It was the 1980s, and Merran’s primary school was ruled by three patriarchal figures: the principal and two teachers, who were all ‘mates’. One of the teachers was extremely verbally abusive, and all the students were terrified of him.
The other teacher, Robert, was the complete opposite. He nurtured Merran’s creativity, and also groomed Merran in various ways. ‘He had my complete and total trust and there was nothing I wouldn’t have done for him.’
The school went on camp for a week when Merran, who was raised as a boy, was around 10 years old. The students slept in shared rooms with bunk beds. She had a bottom bunk, and was molested by a man one night. ‘It was dark in that cabin and I could not see his face.’ Merran was ‘frozen’ in fear and kept ‘completely still’.
She was threatened that she and her family would be killed if she told anyone. ‘Our little secret. To be kept between us forever.’ The man left, ‘creeping quietly out into the darkness … I woke up the next morning and didn’t remember a thing’.
However, later in life, Merran realised her abuser was Robert.
Merran became ill and went home from camp early. Her brother was also at the camp and, on a subsequent night, caught someone abusing another student. He yelled and the abuser ran off and was never caught. The camp was ended early. That was when Merran’s parents asked her if she had been touched too.
Merran is convinced the principal knew something ‘because they moved Robert on … He just got up and left in the middle of the year. We had to get an emergency teacher’.
The suppressed memory of the abuse created a shadow over Merran’s life.
‘At around 11 or 12 … I started to sexually experiment with my younger brothers and show them things they should not have been exposed to … This went on [to] around 12 or 13 until I became self-aware enough to realise that what was going on wasn't right and had gone beyond experimentation. It was my first addiction I suppose and I needed to remove myself from the situation.’
Merran went through life aware there was some kind of event in her childhood she couldn’t remember. ‘I always knew that there was something was wrong with me and I just … couldn’t put my finger on it.’ She even fabricated a childhood abuse story, for herself, to try to rationalise how she was feeling. She started abusing drugs and got ‘messed up’.
Over 20 years after the abuse, a chance conversation with friends triggered for Merran a memory of the actual abuse. ‘This memory came to me from nowhere … Once it started bubbling up I couldn’t stop it. The whole sequence of events unravelled and I … had to accept that that happened.’ She disclosed the abuse for the first time in her life, to one of her friends that night. Her friend was supportive.
Now in her early 30s, this memory triggered another wave of impacts on Merran’s life.
‘After that I didn’t really know what to do. I had this amazing job … six days a week, 60 hours a week … threw myself into this work thing … Since that point in time, pretty much from that memory, I lost my job, like, lost the ability to work at that level … Everything I’d worked for, all the relationships … everything fell apart over the next two years … I completely lost it all because I didn’t want to deal with this.’
Two years later Merran started undergoing ‘intensive’ therapy which has been very helpful. ‘I think if I didn’t have the mental health care plan I’d be in a lot of trouble … that 10 sessions is probably not enough … [but] once I wanted help it was there.’
Over the years, she has had two relationships with women that have ended. She knows the abuse confused her sexuality and wondered if her homosexual leanings were a ‘learned thing’ as a result of it. But, through therapy, she’s come to realise that ‘that was there originally before Robert got to me and before [the other teacher] brutalised me … that that person, “Merran” was actually there a long time before this happened to me’.
Merran disclosed the abuse to her parents, who didn’t believe her, which caused more problems for a time. This has now ‘settled’. She recently reported it to the police. ‘[The detective] believed me, listened to me and showed a lot of compassion.’
Merran feels that the male role model in our society is extremely flawed and that the ‘patriarchal boys club’ enables cover-ups. ‘I just feel like it was a patriarchal teaching environment in that school and, if it hadn’t have been such a boys’ club, none of this … This kind of thing wouldn’t happen.’