Rosalie’s father was pastor of a Pentecostal Christian Church in Western Australia and as well as travelling to congregations across different states he started home-schooling Rosalie when she was seven years old. It was Rosalie’s first experience of education and she had no contact with people outside her immediate family and the congregation elders and members.
Rosalie told the Commissioner that she started being sexually abused from the time her father began teaching her. ‘Dad would rape me repeatedly. I was aged seven. I remember him coming into my room and penetrating me. I felt shamed. I didn’t tell anyone at the time. I didn’t know or understand what it was about. I felt dirty, as if I had done something wrong, and I believed I was going to be punished for this.’ Rosalie’s father threatened that if Rosalie told anyone she would be taken away by police. Each time a siren sounded outside, he would say: ‘They are coming to get you now’, and terrified, Rosalie ran and hid.
The household was one of isolation. Rosalie and her younger brother and sister lived ‘as if the other didn’t exist’. At 13, Rosalie ran away from home and found sanctuary with another church family. However, when the father of that household died she had to return to her own home.
One day while being sexually assaulted, Rosalie screamed. ‘In the background I heard my mother say, “Get out” [to my father]. She made no appearance.’ Rosalie’s sister was also being abused by their father and when the two girls disclosed to their mother, she responded by blaming them. ‘She accused me of lies and said for me to, “Stop this nonsense”. I had no support, no protection and no one to turn to.’
In the late 1980s, when she turned 19, Rosalie entered an arranged marriage with another congregation member, who she described as a lovely, gentle man. During sex, Rosalie would have flashbacks to her father’s assaults. As time progressed she was unable to have sex and at this point she and her husband spoke to church elders and reported the abuse. The elders commanded Rosalie to pray for and forgive her father. When he found out about the report, Rosalie’s father screamed and threatened her with a lawsuit before telling the elders that she had a brain tumour and had lost her memory.
When Rosalie’s sister reported her abuse, her father arranged that she be scheduled to a psychiatric hospital. ‘She was taken by police, in handcuffs, and then medicated’, Rosalie said.
In the mid-1990s, Rosalie cut off all contact with her father and started seeing a counsellor. She separated from her husband and pursued a successful career in international business, marrying again, this time to a man who came to be very violent in the relationship. ‘I call it like, “a scent of abuse”. So you wear a bit of vulnerability all over you.’
Rosalie reported her father’s sexual abuse to Western Australia Police. A comprehensive investigation was undertaken but senior prosecutors decided against extraditing her father from interstate because they deemed him unlikely to further offend. When Rosalie found out that her father was fostering children she rang the agency and let them know about his history and the police investigation. Agency staff told her that children would no longer be placed in his care.
Rosalie told the Commissioner that her childhood abuse made her ‘look at life through a different magnifying glass’. She described the huge effect it had on how she saw life and the changes she wanted to see. The justice system needed to be stronger in sentencing and supporting victims and survivors she said, and there needed to be an avenue where a person could pursue financial recompense. ‘But for me, ultimately money isn’t going to change your circumstances. It’s not going to bring happiness. It’s not going to bring resolve. But it may make them more accountable.’
She recommended centres be set up in each Australian capital city, somewhere people could access the support and resources needed to ‘make a difference in their situation, instead of being on a treadmill’. She wanted to ‘pioneer change’ to ‘channel that experience and limitless potential to a new way of thinking, a positive forward thinking to see change in your circumstance’.
For children her recommendation was that a ‘safety net’ be introduced at an early age, preferably in primary school. ‘If the child feels safe enough – and as soon as I did – they will speak out, I believe.’