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Pippa Jane's story

Pippa was raised in a devout Catholic family in the 1960s and 70s, with religious icons and pictures of Mary all around their Melbourne home.

Their dad worked multiple jobs so that his kids could get a good Catholic education and go to college. He was also an alcoholic and Pippa remembers a lot of fighting between her parents. Sometimes he became violent, not towards the children but towards their mother.

Pippa was anxious as a girl, keen to do well at school but also very eager to please her parents. ‘I was the perfectionist. I was just the perfect student. And I just tried to please everybody.’

The kids were members of a local Catholic youth group when Pippa was in her last years at primary school. There was a club for the girls and for the boys, both run by the Salesian Brothers. On weekends, there were joint activities. Pippa and her sister considered themselves very lucky to be taken out to the pool and other nice places.

Their mother couldn’t drive and their dad was working. When Brother Duncan Sedge found that out, he picked up the girls himself and drove them to the pool.

‘He would drive us home and then Mum and Dad, they just so loved the church so much, and we all loved the church, it was all part of our lives. Brother Duncan Sedge actually was like a family friend. He’d drop us off and come and have a cup of coffee with Mum … He’d spend a lot of time on a Saturday afternoon as a family member.’

He also fondled the girls in the water while they were swimming. Pippa didn’t think about it much at the time.

‘We just weren’t educated as far as what was really happening.’ It wasn’t till later when she was in her 30s that she and her school friends reflected on how ‘suss’ Sedge was. ‘Remember how he used to play with us in the pool?’ they asked each other. ‘We all felt a bit of unease.’

But back then she thought maybe it was just the price of being taken somewhere nice.

The youth group outings and sexual abuse went on for two years. It stopped when Pippa was in high school, however Brother Sedge was still in their lives.

Pippa struggled at school socially. ‘I remember … not wanting to go onto the playground, always wanted to go to the library.’ She couldn’t concentrate on study either, but her parents didn’t notice any real change in her.

‘I think they just thought I was perfect Pippa. In some ways I was really blessed … I was able to “keep myself nice” … I was very pretty … I was like the perfect student, I was able to hide everything.’

Pippa was also coping with additional emotional stresses in her family, and in her last year of high school everything fell apart. She spent some months in a psychiatric ward, heavily sedated.

When she was released she came off her medication and tried to get on with her life. She started tertiary study but didn’t have the confidence to continue, so she concentrated on looking after her children. One impact of the sexual abuse was her refusal to leave her kids in someone else’s care when they were little.

In her 30s, a family member’s psychiatrist asked her to come in for a session. Her memories resurfaced and Pippa got sick again. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and given medication which she continues to take, determined to stay well enough to look after her children.

Pippa has not formally reported Brother Sedge, who is now deceased, to police. Nor can she see the point of making a formal report to the Church.

‘But I think that this is the point. I think that the Royal Commission can promote change and has got the power to do so. To me, that’s enough.’

Pippa told her parish priest that she’d been sexually abused. She was very disappointed that he didn’t check on her welfare afterwards. It left her feeling anxious and ashamed.

She still has her faith however.

‘My faith’s ingrained in me … It’s how I’ve been brought up. But also, despite the evil that’s happened in the Church it’s done some fantastic things and continues to do so in society … But I do question celibacy … What’s the point?’

Pippa is getting counselling now. She has a loving relationship with her grown-up kids and has been open about the fact that she was sexually abused. ‘If anything, it’s helped them to grow and have greater awareness and be non-judgemental as well.’

They also have a great understanding of mental illness. Pippa believes that the sexual abuse affected the way she raised her kids in a positive way.

The early education of children was Pippa’s main recommendation to the Commission. ‘As early as possible. We often leave it too late … The moment these children are going into childcare, protective behaviours need to start.’

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