With the family home backing onto a Marist Brothers high school in Queensland, Natasha and her sister often went over the fence to play in the large school grounds. During this period in the early 1980s she was sexually abused by Brother Gareth Cayley.
One day her mother looked out the kitchen window and saw the Brother with four-year-old Natasha seated on his lap. Sensing something about the interaction was ‘wrong’, she called her husband to quickly retrieve the children.
Back home, Natasha was questioned about what Cayley had done to her. ‘I wasn’t old enough to know the words for different parts of the body, but I knew from Mum’s tone and demeanour that it was serious. [I thought], what have I done? I’ve done something wrong.’
Natasha told the Commissioner that her parents contacted the parish priest and told him about the incident. The priest said that as Natasha was physically okay, she would likely forget about what happened as time went by. He also told them he’d ‘take care of it’.
A few years after Natasha was abused a local priest wrote a letter in which Cayley’s abuse was referred to as ‘the problem which has developed in his life’. The priest wrote that in a recent conversation with Cayley, ‘he promised me that he would seek help while in London later this year. I accept this reassurance and trust that he will seek assistance. I have no reason to disbelieve him’.
Natasha didn’t know if Cayley did ‘seek help’, but she found out he had a history of abusing children and the response of the Catholic Church to allegations was to move him between schools and parishes. At the time of her abuse, Cayley was not meant to have any contact with children. Then after further allegations, he was sent to work with elderly people in a nursing home.
Following their initial response, Natasha’s parents didn’t know what to do. They told her in later years that child sexual abuse was new to them.
‘It didn’t get talked about in public. Emotionally and physically I appeared fine. They thought, “She won’t remember. If we make a big deal of it, it will stick in her mind as a big deal”. So they thought they were doing the right thing. Looking back of course they would do something different.’
Natasha also put the abuse out of her mind and it didn’t surface until she began to have intimate relationships. Her returning memories including Cayley giving her lollies and the abuse occurring on more than one occasion. When asked one day by her mother about her first memory, Natasha replied: ‘I can’t tell you’. This opened the way for disclosure and discussion about the abuse.
Around ten years ago Natasha started the Towards Healing process, with her parents’ support. Staff there didn’t contest that Cayley had abused her. ‘They never seemed to question his guilt. They almost took it for granted, just checked the name and dates.’
She was told by the priest overseeing the process that the Catholic Church hierarchy had decided nobody who’d been sexually abused would have suffered to the extent of needing more than $50,000 in compensation. ‘They said the worst atrocity would be eligible for $50,000.’
As Church authorities delayed, it took persistence from Natasha’s father to see the process through. At times Natasha wanted to give up. Towards Healing staff told her she could report the matter to police and engage a lawyer, but suggested it wasn’t a good idea and that if she did ‘any offer of compensation’s off the table’.
‘We were also thinking, what would it be worth to go through the process of what I’d have to go through anyway when he was at that stage quite an elderly man. For what we would get out of it might not be worth what I would have to go through – going to the police, anything legal, court, me having to give evidence, be questioned and that type of thing.’
Asked what she expected in compensation, Natasha nominated $35,000, but felt that she had to justify the figure because of the $50,000 cap. The amount she’d spent on mental health support and medication over preceding decades was considerably more. ‘I don’t think, despite the name, that there was any healing from it.’
In her working life, Natasha had been employed in positions of responsibility in health and community services throughout Australia. ‘I kept moving because things would get on top of me and I’d try and get away from it, but when everything’s in your head you can’t get away from it.’ At one point she ‘started to spiral downwards’, and was ‘in a really bad place’, unable to work or care for herself. ‘My little dog was probably the saviour because she was just with me.’
Despite seeing mental health professionals regularly, Natasha still struggled.
‘You think you’ll be fine and then something triggers it. Sometimes with the depression it’s not even anything, there is no trigger. One of the hardest things I’ve had to accept is that sometimes things happen and I’ll react or behave in a certain way. I’ll never know, is that what I would have done, is that me, or is that because of what happened? And I can never know that, and so I don’t even trust my own thoughts and reactions because I can’t be certain where it’s coming from, and that’s something that I’m still struggling to accept. I’ll never know who I would have been … I don’t trust anybody completely, even my family that have been fantastic. I just can’t do that completely.’
During the Towards Healing process Natasha asked Church staff if they could notify her when Cayley died. They assured her they would, but didn’t, and she didn’t learn of his death for a year.
‘Finding out that he had died hit me really hard and I was not prepared for that. It was completely unexpected. I was just sort of wandering around in a daze and my head was all over the place for a couple of days. I don’t know what it was. Part of it was a bit angry that he was gone and I was still stuck here having to deal with it. And I dunno, that there wasn’t any opportunity now to confront him with that if I ever wanted to. I don’t know. I was completely blind-sided by my reaction.’
She remained angry that reports of Cayley abusing children prior to her had never been addressed by the Church hierarchy. ‘He’d done it before and they knew he’d done it before and if they had addressed it properly, it would never have happened to me.’
‘If it had been dealt properly the first time I would never have been impacted. The measures that in place to date haven’t been effective. There were plenty of enablers involved and it’s that secrecy and cover up that I want exposed, and accountability would be great’.