Phoebe Grace's story

‘School was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare.’

Phoebe remembers feeling excited about starting school. In the mid-1960s when she was five, her parents enrolled her in a Catholic primary school not too far away from their home in Western Australia. Phoebe’s parents and siblings weren’t nice to her, she told the Commissioner, so she was looking forward to being distracted and learning something new.

On her fourth day of school Phoebe arrived late. One of the Sisters in charge sent her to the convent, which was across the road from the school, to see Sister Davidson. Davidson was waiting for her at the door. She grabbed her and pushed her into a classroom full of students.

Phoebe’s pants were pulled down and Davidson digitally penetrated her vaginally and anally. She was crying with the pain, so Davidson pushed her around and hit her bottom several times with a wooden ruler. Phoebe didn’t know what to do or what to say when Davidson said she could leave the room.

‘I can’t remember how I felt. I just knew it was wrong.’

The abuse continued for one year. Every time Phoebe did something wrong Davidson would come to her classroom or meet her during break and abuse her. Most of the time Phoebe was abused in front of her classmates but no one said a thing.

On one occasion, Phoebe’s teacher quizzed the class on what nuns did for a living. She told her teacher that nuns ‘stuck their fingers up your bum’ before realising she would get into trouble. Phoebe was taken to see Davidson, who was teaching her older sister’s class at the time, and her tongue was cut. She was told not to tell lies.

‘It was still bleeding when I got home that night. It got back to my mum and she belted me with a thong and put pepper on my tongue. She told me not to tell lies.’

For two weeks after that, Phoebe wasn’t allowed to do any school work. Instead, she was forced to write ‘I am the devil’ onto a piece of paper and nothing more. Her school marks deteriorated and she stopped trying. She started stealing food from other students.

When Davidson left the school the following year, Phoebe was delighted. Her attitude towards school changed and she was happier. However, she desperately sought the approval of others and would do whatever her friends told her to do, even if it was bad. She got into trouble both in school and at home.

Just when things started to get a little better for Phoebe, Davidson returned to the school. She went out of her way to exclude Phoebe from participating in group activities, and would often yell at her. Phoebe was not sexually abused again, but she was made a target for bullies in the class. She was tormented so much that she became very withdrawn and hardly ever spoke.

When Phoebe was almost in her mid-teens, she cried and told another Sister about Davidson. She remembers the Sister crying when the disclosure occurred but nothing further was done. Phoebe felt discouraged from reporting it again because she believed that no one would care. Several months later, when she was raped by a man in his 30s several, she didn’t bother to tell anyone what had happened.

‘I think the worst thing was that my family hated me.’

For most of her life, Phoebe has not had a positive relationship with her family. Because her parents didn’t understand her behaviour when she was young, they punished her when she was at home.

As an adult Phoebe developed an addiction to both drugs and junk food. She experiences severe flashbacks and doesn’t respond well to bullies, which has caused issues in her career.

Phoebe disclosed the details of her abuse to her family in the late 2000s when she first started seeing a psychiatrist. She said it was a hard thing to do, but she has been able to reconcile with them and this has meant a lot to her.

Phoebe has a good relationship with her psychiatrist and looks forward to getting treatment for her physical health.

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