‘l look back on my life and see why l have no female friends from my childhood. He abused them and they can’t tell me. l have that on my mind every day.’
Roseanna will never know how many of her friends her father molested when she was a child, or how many relationships she lost because of it.
She remembers a family who used to care for her back then, but had ceased all contact suddenly. They had a daughter around her age, and ‘I would say that my father had abused her, and I never saw them again’.
In the early 1970s, when Roseanna was nine years old, her father was imprisoned for interfering with her friend from school. He had been sexually abusing Roseanna for a long time too.
After his arrest, Roseanna was placed in numerous Catholic children’s homes around Melbourne, run by the Sisters of Mercy. Roseanna was baptised, and a nun chopped off her long hair – ‘it was the only thing that I had, and she just got the ponytail and cut it. ... I burst into tears’.
Despite knowing Roseanna’s father was a convicted paedophile, the nuns allowed him to visit her when he was released from jail, and to take her away for weekends.
‘They knew. That’s why, to this day, I don’t understand why you would put a child back in that situation.’
Roseanna told two Sisters that her father was sexually abusing her. ‘I was pulled into a room and told that I was a liar, and that he was my father, and I should forgive what he’d done previously, and treat him normally, as a child should treat a father.’
At another home she disclosed the continuing abuse to her roommate, who informed their cottage mother.
Roseanna met with the social worker the nuns employed, and Sister Francesca, who was head of the home. ‘And again, was told I was a liar, that they’d spoke to my father and he had denied it, and I should stop telling lies.’
By the time she was in her mid-teens she was living in a hostel run by the nuns. ‘He was still having me and l had stomach pains ... Later l was found to be pregnant.’
The Welfare Department and the Sisters ‘wanted to abort. I said no’. She does not know if this child is her father’s, and does not want to know. Roseanna gave birth, and was ‘released to my father, at 16, who was still abusing me’.
She married as her ‘ticket out of there’, and had several daughters. She told her husband about what her dad had done to her, but he didn’t believe it. Although Roseanna initially shut her father out of her life, she remembered what the nuns had drilled into her, and eventually resumed contact.
‘The only reason I did was that the nuns kept saying, “He’s your father, you need to forgive him, he’s the only family you’ve got”.’
Roseanna tried to teach her children that no man, including their grandfather, was allowed to touch them, and that they could talk to her about anything.
Nonetheless, her father abused all of her daughters. He was convicted of sexual offences against them, and other children, and again received a prison term. Roseanna has not seen him since his release, and does not know where he is now.
The sexual abuse of her daughters ‘just broke my heart’.
‘I said to him, “You know, you’ve ruined my life. Why in the hell would you do this to me now?” And he just looked me straight in the eye, and said, “I love them”. And I said, “You’re sick”.’
She later found out that he had sexually abused many of the girls she lived with in the homes. One friend she had been very close to only disclosed that he had abused her shortly before she died.
Roseanna felt greatly ashamed and guilty about this.
‘She kept saying it wasn't my fault. l felt if l wasn't here, she wouldn't have been abused by him ... l still think that l should have died and not her. She had a life filled with sadness.’
When Roseanna got her welfare file, she discovered her mother was alive, not deceased as she had always been told. It also contained documentation stating she did not want to be with her father, as well as a guardianship application from a woman who had known Roseanna as a baby. This application was rejected on the grounds that the woman was not Catholic.
A few years ago Roseanna ‘lost it’, believing she wasn’t a fit mother. She isolated herself from her family, gambled heavily, attempted suicide, and lived in her car. While in a psychiatric facility, she met a counsellor who finally reassured her that her father’s abuse of herself and others was not her fault.
Roseanna recently went through the Towards Healing process. She did not have any legal representation, and the mediation was delayed for months.
The Church told her that the department held responsibility for the abuse, although the Sisters of Mercy had day to day care and control over her in the homes. Roseanna rejected the small amount of compensation the Church offered. The entire process made her ‘feel like a piece of dirt’.
Roseanna is still living in emergency accommodation, but feeling more stable than she has in a while. She came to the Royal Commission to help other children to be believed when they report sexual abuse, and to stop them going through what she did. ‘If I could stop one child from being told that they are a liar, in an institution, then I’d be a happy person.’