Anne Wilkinson died shortly before she was scheduled to speak to the Royal Commission, so her husband Neal and several of her children attended on her behalf.
Neal provided the Commission with extensive documents detailing the sexual abuse that Anne suffered, first at the hands of her family doctor in the 1940s when she was five years old, and later by Kevin Caldow, a Sunday school teacher at Anne’s Christian church in Sydney.
Caldow began abusing Anne when she was 12 and continued to do so for about seven years. Around the time that the abuse ended, Anne met Neal and the two of them soon married, forming a bond that lasted over 60 years.
For much of that time, Neal did not know that Anne had been sexually abused and neither did she. As a coping mechanism she had blocked out most of the horrors from her childhood. She was in her 30s when she began a course of psychiatric treatment that revived her memories.
Many ugly things that had been locked in the dark came creeping to the surface of Anne’s mind. Among them was this memory of Kevin Caldow which she relayed to Neal:
‘He was apparently given – by the Sunday school superintendent, a Mr Johnson – the “unsaved” girls … When you were raped and you gave blood, a certain amount of blood from your broken hymen, then you were “saved” according to Kevin Caldow.’
Anne shared many of these memories with Neal, and in so doing revived in him the memories of sexual abuse that he had suffered as a child at the hands of his parents.
Shared suffering strengthened their bond, and they decided to take action against Anne’s abusers. They contacted police several times only to be told, again and again, that this particular station here couldn’t deal with the issue and they’d have to take it up with that station over there.
Dissatisfied but undaunted, Anne and Neal decided to follow an older path to justice. He said, ‘In St Matthew, chapter 18, Jesus said if someone sins against you, go and see him privately. And if he doesn’t listen to you, take someone with you … then there’s two people who can witness what is going on. But if he doesn’t listen to that then you tell it to the Church.’
As their first step, Anne and Neal confronted some of her abusers – not only the doctor and Sunday school teacher, but others as well. They received nothing but hostility. Moving to step two, they asked a police officer to accompany them to the home of one of the abusers.
‘He said … “What for?” We said, “To accuse him of rape”. He said, “Oh, we don’t do that. Have you told anyone else about this?” I said, “Oh yes, in Sydney”. “Well, you’ll have to go back there”.’
From there, Neal and Anne moved to step three. They went to their church and told the hierarchy what had happened. By this stage they were exhausted and knew that to maintain their struggle for justice they needed the support of the congregation. As Neal put it, ‘If you’re going to use a Matthew 18 approach, if you’re going to visit people who’ve hurt you, you’ve got to be backed up by society because repercussions can follow.’
Neal and Anne did not get the support of the congregation. Instead, they were mocked, excommunicated and harassed. The harassment got so bad that Neal and Anne went into hiding for years, falsifying their address and cutting themselves off from friends and family. As a result they missed the early years of their grandchild’s life.
It was not only Neal and Anne who suffered during this time and in the volatile years leading up to it. Neal and Anne’s children reported that they had felt the brunt of vicarious trauma, passed down from their parents. In particular they found it very hard to trust people.
Cut off from their family, dismissed by Church and police, Neal and Anne concluded that their only remaining recourse was to write down Anne’s story and release it to the public.
As of 2015, that project was half complete. Before she died, Anne managed to write her biography. Neal, now in his 80s, has refrained from releasing an unedited version of the book because he’s worried that he might get sued for defamation. But he has a plan.
‘If I outlive them then the whole story could be printed with all the real names. Then no worries.’