‘Really no one cared in the church about me marrying Jim. We didn’t just get married in five minutes. There was a lead up to it. No one said anything … They knew everything, but they never spoke up.’
Molly first met Jim Freeman when she was five years old. He was superintendent of the Sunday school at Molly’s Presbyterian Church in the 1950s. Freeman was a Church elder and though only in his 20s at the time, popular and well respected among the congregation.
‘It was clear my mother thought he was a good Christian, and someone that she wanted to get to know’, Molly told the Commissioner. ‘She began inviting him to our home for a cuppa.’
‘Once Jim had wormed his way into our family and gained the trust of my parents he began molesting me whenever he had an opportunity.’ Freeman would make up reasons to visit the church, and Molly’s parents would allow him to take Molly along. Molly was frequently abused in various church buildings, including the church itself.
Though she was an only child Molly was not close to her mother and received little love from either parent. ‘I couldn’t talk to my parents about what was happening to me. What could I say? How could I put it into words? I wouldn’t be believed.’
‘The abuse went on and became my reality.’
Jim Freeman even moved in with the family, boarding with them until the death of Molly’s mother when Molly was a teenager. Freeman’s abuse did not stop until he moved out.
Molly’s adolescence was also difficult. Her father began drinking after the death of his wife, and Molly spent lonely years looking after him, with little emotional support. She did not see much of Freeman. She left home at 21 and travelled overseas.
‘When I got back from overseas Jim was waiting outside work to suggest that we go out.’ He was 20 years her senior, but pursued Molly with zeal. To her it seemed like a normal courtship. Two years later Molly married him.
‘I don’t think I was ever able to sort out in my head what had happened and the confusion was I thought Jim was the person I could trust … I couldn’t rely on my father, I had no brothers and sisters … Jim was very clever, very manipulative … I just believed he loved me, and I had this belief he was a good Christian too.’
‘He’d been in the church all the time I was there. I couldn’t see past that at the time.’
Molly and Jim had children together. The talk of love proved hollow, however. Once they were married Freeman became cold and distant. Molly believes she was manipulated into the marriage to provide a respectable front for her husband.
‘As unhappy as I was in all those years, my church upbringing meant I was not going to leave the children. I can’t walk out, walk away.’
Molly felt tied to Freeman. She believed her marriage to the man sanctioned the assault she had suffered at his hands when she was little. It was decades before Molly recognised what had happened as abuse and began to seek help from a child sexual assault counsellor.
The couple separated after nearly 30 years of marriage, and Molly was to learn more about her husband. One day she had a phone call from the nursing home where Freeman lived. He had told one of the nurses that he was a paedophile, and had spent time in jail, a long time ago. Molly discovered her abuser and husband had raped a child when he was a 17 year old, before Molly was born.
After release from prison Freeman had been looked after by a family who converted him to Christianity and brought him into the church – Molly’s family church. ‘It was the perfect cover for Jim. His sins were forgiven, and no one spoke about his past again.’ Freeman became a pillar of the church and was put in charge of the Sunday school children, until one sunny morning five-year-old Molly was put into his care. He took her by the hand and led her away.
Molly has made a formal approach to the Uniting Church, which her old Presbyterian church had joined. She eventually received a sympathetic hearing, but the matter is being dealt with by lawyers.
The Church was able to send her copies of minutes of parish meetings from the time of Freeman’s teenage conviction. Freeman and his crimes were openly discussed. Molly finds it distressing that the Church was prepared to let a known child rapist take control of the Sunday school.
Molly wants very clear rules in place for all churches. ‘No sex offender should be able to hold leadership positions in the church or in roles where they have access to children.’
Telling her story has been part of Molly’s healing process. ‘It’s about me taking my power back. Jim took so much from me … It’s about me standing up and saying, “This did happen to me”. Feels like having the last word, if you like.’
On his death bed Jim Freeman spoke to a minister. ‘He was apologising to other victims, for the ones he went to jail for. But he never ever apologised to me … I don’t think he thought in any way he needed to apologise to me.’