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Penny Sue's story

‘I wear my emotions on my sleeve, which is one of the reasons why I’ve been targeted.’

Penny was born into a religious family, living in Queensland in the mid-1980s. Her mother and father were devout Anglicans. Penny was very close to her mother and they both attended the same local Anglican church every Sunday. Penny’s parents divorced when she was 10 years old.

At the church, Penny and her mother came into contact with a small group of single women. These women were heavily involved with the church and would often stop and chat with Penny’s mother. The ‘leader’ of the group was Kendra Phillips, who was in her early 40s. Phillips was an assistant to the minister and was very much ‘an untouchable’ woman in the church. Penny said she ‘had a bad feeling’ about Phillips.

When Penny was 13, she was involved in a motor vehicle accident and sustained a brain injury. She was in hospital for an extended period of time. While she was recovering in hospital, Penny’s nurse would say inappropriate things to her which made her uncomfortable. She said the nurse would imply sexual ideas when checking up on her. Penny also recalled her physiotherapist being ‘very touchy-feely’ with her when she was in rehabilitation.

Penny returned to school after she was released from the hospital. She also started attending church again with her mother. Penny noticed Phillips ‘always staring’ at her in church and would find excuses to come and talk to her and her mother. She recalled Phillips being overly concerned about her wellbeing and would often make ‘inappropriate’ comments to her mother about Penny’s rehabilitation. This was done several times over an extended period of time.

As Kendra Phillips was high in the church, Penny felt she and her mother couldn’t say anything to anyone about her behaviour. Phillips continued to behave this way until Penny was well into her adulthood. Penny told the Commissioner that when her mother was around, she was able to ‘protect’ her from Phillips as much as she could. That changed significantly in the early 2010s.

When Penny was in her late 20s, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Penny became her caregiver and stuck by her side throughout her battle. She died shortly after her diagnosis, which upset Penny deeply. After Penny’s mother died, Phillips began to invite Penny over for dinner at least once a week.

Penny accepted her invitation once because Phillips made Penny feel ‘selfish’ and ‘un-Christian’ for not doing so. She told the Commissioner that Phillips tried to get her drunk by refilling her wine glass ‘over and over’. Phillips ‘demanded’ Penny stay over because she ‘was too drunk’ to go home alone. Penny believes her intentions weren’t honourable and left immediately.

After the incident at Phillips’s home, Penny decided to change churches. She felt uncomfortable being around Phillips and didn’t like the group Phillips associated with. She felt Phillips had abused her position of authority to ‘get closer’ to herself and her mother and she believes Phillips was grooming her with the aim of a sexual relationship.

Penny has been unable to work for a number of years because of her disability. She said her ‘stubborn’ streak and her ‘sense of humour’ have helped her cope with her ordeals. Penny has since found solace with her new church and religion. She would like to report Kendra Phillips to the police, but is unsure whether it would be worthwhile.

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