‘After some time he told me the plan. The plan was that we were to marry. He gave me a piece of white lace and one afternoon he married us ... I remember feeling very excited about getting married to him.
‘I remember having the lace draped over my face. After he performed the marriage ceremony and we were ‘married’, he told me and showed me what married people do.’
Rochelle was around four years old when Reverend Herbert Crane ‘married’ her. Crane was the priest at the Anglican Church Rochelle and her family went to, in suburban Sydney.
Rochelle attended the church’s preschool in the 1980s. Crane began spending time with her there, and after a period of grooming, started sexually abusing her.
During naptimes, he would take her out the back of the school. There, he abused her on multiple occasions: ‘kissing, genital touching and kissing, and vaginal penetration with fingers and penis, oral penetration’.
When her family stopped attending the church, due to other erratic behaviour by Crane, she felt rejected by her ‘husband’.
‘At the time of the abuse I thought I was a very special, blessed, God-chosen child. I enjoyed the attention and some parts of the abuse. Although it was often times painful and I couldn’t breathe I thought I was doing something worthwhile, something that was fulfilling God’s plan. ... Why didn’t he love me anymore?’
Rochelle had ‘a lot of shame’ as a child, and developed a long-lasting drug addiction from the age of 13. She repressed the memories of Crane’s abuse until she was 17.
When she told her parents, ‘My mum said it wasn’t true’, and her father didn’t seem to understand at all. Today, they accept what happened, and her dad is sorry they didn’t protect her.
Impacts of this abuse have included bed-wetting, nightmares, rage, depression, anxiety, dissociation, fear, panic attacks, self-loathing, body image issues, inability to trust, and troubles with intimacy and healthy relationships (including feeling ‘my only value was sexual’).
Rochelle still sometimes has flashbacks to the abuse during sex. She also told the Royal Commission ‘I played sexual games with my younger brother. This affected our relationship, though he forgives me and knows it was because of the abuse. It created disharmony’.
It was hard for Rochelle to maintain employment, and she often contemplated suicide. Her relationship with the church community, which she enjoyed as a child, was irreparably damaged.
She used study as a ‘self-abusive’ coping mechanism. ‘Not sleeping and eating to study and write assignments, putting huge amounts of pressure on myself to achieve. Neglecting myself, family and friends just to keep getting good grades.’
Rochelle has tried many kinds of therapy, including seeing numerous counsellors. One of the most useful approaches was group therapy, facilitated by a child sexual assault service. It was helpful to meet with women who had similar experiences to hers.
The service also enabled her to avoid developing a ‘victim consciousness’, as participants were referred to as survivors, not victims. She is upset that the service, which she found invaluable, has now been closed.
Aside from conventional therapies, she explored ‘kinesiology, EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques], hypnotherapy, and many, many self-help style courses on stress release, metaphysics, neuroplasticity, meditation, methods of emotional release and deep relaxation’.
One approach involved screaming. ‘It was like all these trapped screams that I never got to scream were just screamed.’ This got rid of ‘the terror’, making space for other emotions.
Rochelle also attributes much of her resilience to her son, born when she was in her early 20s. Motherhood has not always been easy however.
‘I kept having nightmares and visions of my son. In my vision he was pulling on my skirt and I was locking my heart in a box and putting it on the top shelf.’
She struggled with things like sending him to preschool, and the changes in his body as he has got older.
A few years ago, Rochelle decided to confront Crane, who had retired. She located him, ‘only to find he had Parkinson onset dementia and was wheelchair bound. I did my best to make peace, and I heard he had died three weeks later.’
Rochelle recommended that counsellors be available in all schools. She had problems as a teen, and someone to speak to would have helped her. Her high school only had a priest to support students, which was obviously problematic.
She also suggested that children should be given the vocabulary to speak about sex, and an awareness of what kinds of touching are appropriate.
Rochelle recently contacted the Anglican Church about the abuse, and has engaged a lawyer to represent her in a compensation claim. Initially thinking a payment may be ‘dirty money’, she now considers ‘money is a symbol of energy, and it took a lot of energy for me to overcome the thing’.
Although still experiencing difficulties with relationships, Rochelle loves her family, son and friends, and enjoys working in creative fields. Conquering so many issues relating to the abuse has been empowering.
Today she feels ‘balanced’, and happy with what she has achieved. ‘I’ve done a lot of work. Like the person who has a bung knee, and then becomes the Olympic sprinter.’