As the youngest child in a devout Seventh Day Adventist family, Shawna attended Pathfinder camps in the mid-1980s. ‘Like the scouts and guides have a jamboree and they all get together in one spot, we had a “camporee”.’ From the first Pathfinder camp Shawna attended, she realised that she was unimportant in the eyes of the camp leaders.
‘I got my period for the first time. I was 12. It was water activities constantly ... I told the leader that I wasn’t coping, and she laughed at me and went round the corner and told the other counsellors that were s’posed to be looking after me, and I heard them laughing. From that I kind of realised that I was a little bit insignificant to them.’
That initial experience taught Shawna that she had a low status in the church community hierarchy. The following year when Shawna attended the camp again, she awoke one night to find a 17-year-old boy whose ‘family were very well respected as well (and I’d already realised I wasn’t)’ had climbed into her sleeping bag and was molesting her.
‘I was sound asleep. I woke up, I thought I was dreaming but his hands were all over me and he was actually in my sleeping bag and my pants were off and I woke up. I was beside myself because I had no idea what was going on. And I got out of bed and ran into the leaders’ room and they told me to go back to bed. So I slept in the chapel that night ‘cause that’s where I felt safe for some reason.’
Because the camp leaders didn’t take the incident seriously Shawna assumed it must have been normal behaviour and didn’t mention it again. ‘Why didn’t I? I don’t know why. I was a kid.’
The following year a new science teacher, Mr Greeves, commenced at Shawna’s school. Shawna reported that Mr Greeves was straight out of university and did not ‘understand personal boundaries at all’.
‘He would come up and put his arm around you and his hand would be sitting almost on your boob. And I said to my mum a couple of times “He’s a real creep”. I said “I hate asking for help, because if he comes over to lean over your page he’s looking down my top”.’
During this time Shawna became protective of an intellectually disabled classmate, Rebecca. ‘She sat in front of me in class. One day she got up and she had blood on the back of her uniform and I felt so sorry for her, the boys picked on her. So I went and helped her sort that out and the next day I brought hygienic things for her to use.’
Rebecca suffered from monthly headaches, and one day Shawna noticed that instead of waiting in the sick bay, Rebecca ‘somehow ended up on a beanbag in the science lab behind the science room in the dark room’.
‘And I could not work out why she would be there and everybody else went to the sick bay. So one day I … picked off a little bit of the black contact that was covering the window to spy and saw Mr Greeves leaning over the top of her with his pants down. So you couldn’t see a lot obviously, I was 14. I didn’t really know what I was even seeing.’
Shawna reported the incident to the principal. ‘He seemed like he’d taken everything on board. It appeared that it was a serious matter and he appeared that he was gonna sort it all out.’ The principal never pursued the complaint and Mr Greeves continued to work there.
Shawna then told her mother about the incident, and she arranged for a meeting with the state president of the Church, the principal and Mr Greeves. At this meeting ‘my mum was told she was overprotective and that I’d misinterpreted kindness’.
Mr Greeves also appeared to give special attention to another female student with an intellectual disability. ‘We always thought that Mr Greeves favoured her and seemed to. It was weird. I still can’t explain it … I think Mr Greeves preys on people with disabilities.’
Recently Shawna discovered Mr Greeves mysteriously left two schools suddenly and no longer works as a teacher.
About 15 years ago she disclosed the abuse she suffered at the Pathfinders camp. ‘I was talking to my sister and it all started coming out. And it made me realise that it was actually a big deal.’ She has since disclosed to her husband and parents, and they have been supportive.
After disclosing the incident, Shawna is relieved to finally be taken seriously after not being listened to as a child. ‘Every time I told someone it was never a big deal. So I was never taken seriously, never listened to. So I’ve always felt like I don’t matter … When a kid says something they need to be listened to.’
‘It impacted on every aspect of my entire life actually, when you sit back and think about it … I’m super protective. I couldn’t go to work, I couldn’t send my children to childcare. There was no way someone else was going to look after my children.’
‘I can’t explain the feeling when I saw the ad in the paper that there was a Royal Commission. I just went “Someone might listen to me finally. I’m not so insignificant, this does matter”.’
Shawna has never sought compensation or counselling for the abuse she experienced. Her parents are still actively involved in the Church, but she and her siblings are not, believing that the Church did not take child protection seriously and still doesn’t.
‘I feel like they would prefer to cover things up than deal with them. And unfortunately that protects the bad people …
‘If people won’t stand up things won’t change.’