Sixteen-year-old Olive went out with friends one night in the early 1970s and was having such a good time that she decided not to come home. In the early hours of the morning she was picked up by police, smacked in the face and told that she was ‘uncontrollable’.
This was enough to convince Olive’s devout Catholic mother that she needed to be put into a girls’ home. Olive didn’t mind. ‘I went “Yeah, I’m going on holiday”. Well, it wasn’t a holiday. It was the worst six months of me life.’
Olive was sent to a Catholic convent in Melbourne. Soon after arriving she witnessed some girls ‘being intimate with each other’ in the bathroom. ‘They threatened me not to tell or I would be bashed.’
Olive ignored the threat and reported the incident. The Mother Superior chided her for telling lies and warned her not to mention the incident to anyone else. A short while later, Olive was attacked.
‘The girls threatened me in the toilets and I was held down and digitally raped, causing me pain, trauma and leaving me scratched and cut.’
Olive again went to the Mother Superior, only to receive the same dismissive response. No action was taken against the girls. In the weeks that followed, Olive was sexually assaulted several times in her bed and the bathroom.
One day another girl suggested that Olive might like to go to confession with the convent priest, Father Paul. The first session went okay, but at the second session the priest asked her to give details of what the girls had done to her, then masturbated while she talked.
After that, Father Paul started taking Olive into his office and putting his hand up her dress. He called her his ‘little girl’ and warned, if she didn’t do what he wanted, he would make sure she was never allowed to leave the convent.
The abuse continued over the next few weeks. During this time, a group of nuns grabbed Olive and dragged her into a secluded room. They said that they had to do a test to see if she was pregnant, then pinned her down and digitally penetrated her.
From then on, Olive knew that she had to escape the convent. She tried, but was caught when one of the girls dobbed her in. Next she tried to get her mother onside, opening up to her during a weekend visit.
‘Well, did I cop it from her. I was yelled at and screamed at, and she told me that I would go to Hell for what I said and that I’d be down there begging for a drop of water on my tongue. After that she stopped coming to visit, and when I had a weekend home she would not talk to me.’
Eventually, after six months, Olive was released. In some ways, however, she has never escaped the convent.
‘Six months after I left the convent I tried to kill myself by taking an overdose. I was not coping with everything that had happened. I also tried to commit suicide a few years later as I was finding it hard to trust or have a lasting relationship with a male, as I would have flashbacks of the priest trying to be intimate with me. To this day I find it difficult to have a relationship and have been single for the past 20 years.’
But what really angers her, Olive said, is that the effects of the abuse have flowed on to her children. Distrustful of all men, Olive became an over-protective parent, cutting her kids off from many of the joys and freedoms of childhood.
It’s only recently that she’s managed to tell her children the reason for her behaviour. They burst into tears, but ultimately the disclosure has helped them understand her better and brought the family closer together.
Olive has received some compensation from the Church, but even after agreeing to a settlement there was no real acknowledgement of the abuse or an apology.
Similarly, when Olive later spoke to some nuns from the convent they acknowledged only the abuse she suffered at the hands of Father Paul and refused to accept that their fellow nuns had abused her, too.
Despite all this Olive has managed, with the help of her psychologist, to regain much of the power these institutions once held over her. She summed up her feelings in a letter, addressed to the now dead Father Paul:
‘I went to you and complained for what was happening, and I gained trust in you, only for you to betray me. Well, Mister, I’m not your little girl anymore, and that white collar might have protected you back then but now I’m a grown woman and have people now who I can confide in …
‘You committed a crime and you will now do the time. Justice will be served and I know for sure that God will not have you in Heaven, as it won’t be me who has him to answer to on my judgment day, it will be you.’