‘When I was 15, I had planned my own death. I’d thought about how I would die, and I sat at the top of the boarding house in Year 10, took the grille off the window and worked out how I could jump to my death. Didn’t act on it, but I thought about it a lot.’
In the mid 1970s Mona was sent to board at a Catholic girls’ school run by the Sisters of Mercy in Victoria. ‘It was very, very slack’, Mona told the Commissioner. ‘Even by the standards of the day I think it was pretty slack.’ Mona believes there weren’t enough nuns to look after them properly. The girls could come and go as they pleased from the dormitory, often walking down to the main street to talk to local boys.
Mona and other students joined a sports team attached to the parish church. ‘The nuns trusted the coach and manager of the team, who were two young men, teenagers … One of them had a car. He used to drive us to and from [games].’
Men would hang around while the girls trained. ‘There was a group of young men who were preying on young women around the boarding house.
‘We were very naive. The nuns weren’t paying any attention whatsoever, because we were in the care of the coach and the manager. But the coach and the manager, as I found out later, were sexually abusing two of the girls in my team.’
Mona used to blame herself for what happened. ‘I made bad decisions.’ Occasionally she went with boys to a share house where she was given drugs and alcohol. She was only 14 and was forced to have sex.
Mona vividly recalls a cold day in July. She was picked up by a young man named Rowan Peters and driven to a forest nearby. ‘He dragged me down this embankment, raped me against a tree, pushed me on the ground and then basically dragged me back to the car, while his friends watched.
‘They drove me back to school and then literally they pushed me out of the car.’
These young men had also been taught at Catholic schools in the area. Mona believes they were victims of child sexual assault themselves, and that her suffering is part of a chain of abuse.
‘It was a very violent act, what happened. Looking back now, I reckon he treated me the way he wanted to treat the people who abused him. I have a strong feeling what he did to me was what they probably did to him.’
Mona stopped playing sport and did not see Peters or the other men again. She thought about reporting the rape, but chose to keep it secret. ‘None of the women at the school, either teachers or nuns, were particularly approachable.’ Mona finished school and went to university, but couldn't escape the effects of the abuse.
‘It haunted me, all my relationships with everyone. I just thought someone could see straight through me, and they could see that I’d done this and done that. I got into speed at university in a really big way and that was all about escaping.’
Mona has had trust issues all her life. ‘I don’t even trust my own instincts sometimes … I just wasn’t very good at picking what was a safe or an unsafe situation, and even now I struggle with that a bit.’
Nevertheless, she has survived. Mona believes she is a ‘feisty person’ and that has helped her push through. And she claims it was good luck that she met and married a calm man, and has had a stable, long-lasting marriage. ‘He’s always been there. He’s just a remarkable person.’
It is only in recent years that Mona has told her husband about her history of abuse. In her late 40s, Mona faced a crisis. ‘I came to a crashing halt and I couldn’t function any more … Couldn’t read, couldn’t write. Just crying all the time. It was terrible. And I just wanted to be dead.’
Mona told her husband about her profound depression and he organised help. Mona began seeing a psychologist. Even then it was three months before she could talk about the rape. Five years on Mona is doing well and is finally accepting that she is not to blame for what happened.
‘Writing out how I felt was really important to the whole process of healing. I was able to put it at some distance and not feel like it was all my fault anymore.’
Mona will not report the rape to police. ‘No one has ever paid the price except me.’ She kept tabs on Rowan Peters for some years after she left the girls’ school, but the trail has now gone cold. Mona strongly believes he is either dead or in jail.
Mona has still not told her parents what happened to her 40 years ago, nor does she plan to. ‘It’s just too hard.’ And she does not want to approach the Church for compensation. ‘I thought really, I’ve been through enough already, I don’t want to go through any more.
‘I just got my own back by never going to church after I turned 18.’