Rachael grew up in ‘very loving’ Christian family in Sydney’s southern suburbs, ‘with very good men’ in her life. When she was 15 years old, in the early 1980s, she took a holiday job at a local community club which held functions and fundraisers. The club’s restaurant manager, Angelo, was at least 30 years older than Rachael, and soon began grooming and sexually abusing her.
At first he would call her ‘his little flower’ (‘which was very insulting and unusual behaviour’), and rostered her on shifts ‘where there were no other female staff ... sometimes there was no one else there’. He would hug her, pushing her against his groin, and try to kiss her, and he made her drink alcohol.
‘When I was repulsed and wanted to break free it seemed to excite him more, so he held me closer and I just froze. He commented on my looks and must have noticed the discomfort as he pestered me to smile at the customers. He told me how he was “thinking about me and how good it felt” when he was at home and closed his eyes and was interrupted by his wife.
‘I think he was grooming me for sex. He told me what he would do if I went out with him, like buy flowers and take me somewhere fancy, give me things that my boyfriend could never give me. He even tried to persuade me to avoid my boyfriend.’
One night Angelo insisted on giving her a lift home, and while driving with one hand pushed the other up into her skirt. ‘I froze, I was sick and traumatised, I had to go home and act normally.’
When Rachael mentioned going with her mother to buy a new school uniform Angelo became very excited. ‘He asked me that day to put on my uniform and said he would like to see me in it. I followed what he asked – I did not know that men can have sexual fantasies about girls in school uniform.’
Angelo took her to a private room and made her sit on him. ‘He was holding me hard down on top of him in a simulated sex position. I was in shock and couldn't move. I didn't even know this is how people can have sex. He was thrusting himself against me, in my school uniform, degrading me and by the look on his face and his noises I think he may have climaxed .... I didn't understand what was happening to my body, my vagina and whole perineum was sore and numb.’
She felt that she had to comply with her manager’s behaviour so that she could get a good reference and continue working in hospitality – but ‘he did not give me a reference when I resigned’.
Angelo’s wife came to the restaurant one day and he made Rachael serve her. She ‘felt sick with shame’ and wanted to tell ‘this poor lady’ what her husband was like.
Rachael suspects Angelo told another worker, Mike, what he was doing to her. One day Mike pulled her very close to him, but she told him ‘no’. Another time Angelo asked Mike to drive her home. Mike did so but did not stop at her house, instead driving around the block slowly ‘looking for somewhere to stop’.
By then ‘I knew by now I was going to be raped.’ She ‘started yelling at him to stop, outside the house of our friends and I threatened to jump out and tell them, so he took me home’.
The abuse ended when she left the job to go back to her studies. Around 10 years later Rachael was seeing a psychologist about another matter. She mentioned the sexual abuse at the club and immediately was referred to a psychiatrist.
‘I’ve tried to look back and think why didn’t I tell anyone what was going on [previously] ... I didn’t learn until proper counselling in my 30s, with my psychiatrist, that what happened to me is child sexual abuse ... I always thought, with the term that it is, it can sound like there must be penetration involved so I didn’t know.’
After this she spoke to her mother about the abuse. ‘There wasn’t the emotional support I was hoping to get. There was no hugging or reassurance. There was a mention that, “Oh, lots of things do happen to girls”.’ Rachael still has ‘times where I think, I was 15, and I don’t know why I didn’t have the strength to stop it all’.
These feelings of guilt have stopped her disclosing the abuse to authorities. ‘I didn’t tell anyone at the club, and I didn’t tell the police, and there’s no compensation or nothing.’ Even now she doesn’t feel she could report this matter. ‘I still have this internal fear that he would have a way of saying that I let it happen.’
Rachael told the Commissioner about her mental health history, including suicidal ideation, self-harming, eating disorders, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other impacts of the abuse include ‘being robbed of the chance to experience sex and your body in an age appropriate relationship with consent. This issue has given me much guilt and forever affected my faith, self-esteem and relationships, outlook on sex and men, child rearing, childbirth, gynaecological problems, and my relationship with my mother. You basically hate yourself and constantly want to go back and help that young person who was alone, frightened, sick and ashamed. I also constantly look for danger’.
When her own daughter started school ‘I had to get psychological treatment ... I literally couldn’t put the uniform on my daughter. I didn’t know what was wrong with me’.
Currently, Rachael has weekly appointments with a psychotherapist, which is not covered by Medicare. She attends a support group and engages with other health professionals regularly.
‘People deserve to get free counselling for child sexual abuse and not just limited to a restricted number of sessions under Medicare, because they have been the victim of an illegal act. More people would report it and seek help.’
Her faith has been a source of strength, but sometimes she doesn’t feel like she belongs in church. ‘I’ve been abused. Everyone looks so happy and good people.’
Rachael would like to see better education about child sexual abuse for children, parents, and the wider community. ‘I know men in the community who still think it is men touching very young boys only ... I have also heard men discussing that women who report things like in the Rolf Harris case, are doubtful and making things up. Indirectly, they were judging me.’