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Romy's story

Romy went to a Catholic primary school in Papua New Guinea (PNG) after her family moved there in the 1960s. At that time PNG was still a territory of Australia.

She was sexually abused at the age of eight by the school’s janitor, a local Papuan man. Romy had left class to go to the toilet and, as she was leaving the block, he suddenly appeared and grabbed her. ‘I always remember thinking if I hadn’t have pulled that chain he wouldn’t have known I was there.’

After she was abused, the janitor locked Romy in a small closet full of cleaning supplies. ‘I just remember being overwhelmed with this fear that I couldn’t get out of this room and he’s going to come back and he’s probably going to kill me.’

What happened next is a blank. Romy doesn’t remember how she got out of the closet and back to class. She’s always wondered if her long absence was noticed and someone came and found her.

Romy didn’t tell anyone at the school about the abuse but said, ‘There’s no way it happened and they didn’t know. Not in a million years do I believe that I would’ve gone back into a classroom and been the normal little girl that walked out of there.’

After about two years, Romy’s family moved back to Australia. She didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until her late teens, and even then only her closest friend and her sister. ‘To be honest, it was one of those things I would’ve rather not talked to anybody about.’

About 10 years ago, Romy started experiencing some severe emotional trauma and didn’t know why. She prayed for guidance and realised she had to get some help.

Romy then went through what she described as a ‘very difficult six months’ of healing, where she began to understand the impact of the abuse.

‘I think I learnt about myself that, as that little girl in that situation, I’d made some inner vows. And that was that nobody could protect me. And because I was in a church environment, I remember saying to myself that I’ve got to look after myself. Because I thought, my parents couldn’t protect me, even God couldn’t protect me.

‘So I became very, very independent. And my radar’s always been up, to never ever be in a situation where that could ever, ever happen again.

‘I still have a very high sense of alert to this day. We can be in a room and I can pick up a paedophile in an instant.’

Romy also realised that there were triggers causing her worst memories to return. ‘Certain things stayed in my memory banks. And if I get into certain situations smells come back, the same smells that were in the closet that day. And I didn’t know why that used to happen. And I found out as I went through all this healing process.’

The Catholic Church offered Romy counselling too, but she refused. ‘I don’t want counselling from the very institution that allowed this to happen.’

But even though the healing process was very helpful, the Church also made a point of telling Romy that hers was the only complaint ever received about the Papua New Guinea school, and all its records had since been destroyed in a fire.

‘I don’t know why they would even tell me that unless it’s their way of saying if anything was ever reported there’s nothing to back it up.’

A couple of years ago Romy learnt that the school and its church were well known in PNG as a place where paedophile priests were relocated.

But she has no interest in seeking compensation. ‘For me it’s not about the money, I don’t want any money, it doesn’t fix what they did.’ What Romy wants is for other survivors to know that the Church is liable for the abuse.

‘I just think that there needs to be a lot more due care towards children if they’re going out of the teacher’s eyesight. And that there’s always a safe place for a teacher to report something or a child to report something without any repercussions.’

Romy’s strength, and her faith and loved ones, have all helped to put the abuse behind her.

‘I don’t want to live in that stuff, and I don’t want it to have any power over my life.

‘To me, today is the end.’

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