‘Something told me to keep calm, keep it calm. Don’t let it get out of hand, bigger than it is.’
Nina grew up in a devout Catholic family in Victoria in the late 1950s. Her family was one of the founding families of the local parish church in their town. Nina recalls her parents being ‘in awe’ of the Church – they considered members of the Catholic clergy to be like ‘demi-gods’, she said.
When Nina was 10, she was a part of a girls’ group at school. The group was known as the ‘special girls group’, and its members loved to sing in church and at school. Nina said they were rehearsing for an upcoming Christmas pageant with Father Cravers. Cravers enjoyed music and curating pageants was ‘his thing’. She recalls being ‘excited’ about the pageant. Nina was asked to stay back after the rehearsal, which made her feel ‘very special’.
Cravers told her to lie across his knees, which she did without questioning him. Cravers then lifted up her dress, put his hands under her underpants and touched her backside. She was very conscious to ‘keep things under control’, and so she did not pull away.
‘It was like a circular motion and it was warm and it felt nice. That’s where it was really hard because I kept thinking this felt nice but it wasn’t right … It feels soothing. It’s very conflicting.’
After the abuse had occurred, Nina was picked up from school and went home. She then sat down with her parents and told them what Father Cravers had done. Nina’s father gave her a look of shame before looking away.
‘He looked away, which is what he did when he was upset. He said, “We’re not going to talk about this anymore, I just want you to forget about it”.’
Nina was told a few days later that her Uncle Fred, a priest-in-training, would speak to the Church and Cravers. She was told not to think about it anymore as it was ‘all fixed’. Nina learnt later on that her parents did not report the abuse to the police, but simply left it all up to Fred. When she returned to school, Father Cravers was gone and she never saw him again.
For many years, Nina buried all the memories she had of the abuse. She never spoke of it again to her family, or confided in her friends.
When she was in her early 20s, she was attacked by an unknown man. She said she was able to fight him off, but was left feeling like ‘a walking target’. Nina said it was this attack that made her believe that she couldn’t be safe. It also awoke the memory of her abuse.
Nina described her flashback as a ‘video recording’ where she would view the abuse of her 10-year-old self from a bystander’s perspective. She said whenever this memory occurred, it distressed her.
Nina suffers from depression. She doesn’t trust people and often struggles to connect when in a relationship. She married when she was in her mid-20s and remained in an unhappy marriage for over a decade. She said her husband and his family were ‘manipulative’ and ‘controlling’, which triggered her anxiety.
In the mid-1980s when she was in her 30s, she found a counsellor and formed a close professional relationship with him. She said he helped her out of her marriage, and ultimately out of the Catholic Church. Nina regularly keeps in contact with her counsellor and is very grateful that she ‘found him at the right time.’
She told the Commissioner she avoids confrontation, which is why she has never reported Cravers to the police. To this day, she has only confided the details about her abuse to her counsellor. She came to the Royal Commission in the hope she would ‘find comfort’ about disclosing what happened to her and keeping it on record.