Selena can’t remember doing so but one day, when she was around seven years old, she told her sister that their local priest was touching her. ‘I just blurted it out one day.’ Her sister marched her up to the house to tell their mother. ‘Dad apparently wasn’t interested in it. Mum … was racking her brain trying to figure out what to do.’
Selena grew up in the 1980s in a devout Catholic family living in regional Australia. She went to a Catholic primary school adjacent to the church, which the students would visit during the school day. It was there that Father Walker would sit Selena on his lap and fondle her. He also used to groom the students by coming to the school yard and throwing lollies to all the kids. Selena was sexually abused by Walker over a period of time when she was between five and seven years old.
Although her parents were conflicted about how to respond to the reported abuse, her mother told Selena not to go to the church any more. She also started picking Selena up after school. Around the same time, the school principal informed the students that the church was out of bounds. This principal went on later to champion the safety of children in Catholic schools.
Because of the abuse Selena started bed-wetting and having nightmares. She also had anger control issues in her final two years of primary school. As a teenager she was saddened and angered that her father was in denial about the abuse. Throughout her life Selena has suffered from PTSD, anxiety, nightmares, intrusive memories and isolation.
The next time Selena remembers disclosing was when a journalist doing a story about abuse in the Catholic Church rang her.
‘It felt like such a relief … It was someone that was willing to listen and was interested in what had happened.’
Selena studied and now works as a professional. When she was in her early thirties, she reported the abuse to the police. She also gave evidence at a public inquiry. Some members of her family were supportive at the time but others weren’t. Finding adequate support has been a challenge for Selena.
‘When it was suggested that [I] try to seek some kind of compensation, my husband was, sort of … I love him to bits but he was a bit like … he wasn’t saying it in this way but he was thinking, “You just need to get over it”. Because he’s been brought up with that same mentality of … don’t complain and … get on with life … I just wanted to make a change … Change had to happen.’ Civil proceedings with the Church did occur, a process she found ‘respectful’ and ‘accommodating’. She was awarded compensation.
‘I think it’s striking a balance between the victim mentality and being completely in denial’, she said.
‘You have to … realise that it is there and not just deny those feelings.’
Selena has received no formal counselling. ‘I’ve just found telling the story and being listened to has been quite helpful. And it does feel like it’s in the past now but there is always that concern, or thoughts in the back of mind, just because of my own kids.’ Her husband is now much more supportive. They are both still involved in the Church but are adamant their children won’t be altar servers.
‘I’m a fairly happy person … I get quite anxious and nervous. I don’t think I’m a very confident person. But certainly I have a very positive outlook on life … I won’t let a lack of confidence prevent me from following through on something that I believe in.’