Sheri is in a very precarious position. With few friends who understand her, estrangement from her family, an unstable work life and no financial savings or support, there is very little in life she can rely on.
‘I’ve got two friends who committed suicide and I know exactly why they did it,’ she said. ‘I’m tired of always struggling. I don’t live, I just exist.’
She remembers a time when she was a happy little girl, skipping off to feed her beloved horses. She grew up in the 1950s on a farm in Victoria in a staunchly Catholic family with five brothers and sisters, and wanted nothing more than to continue working with horses. But her mother wanted Sheri to fill a more traditional role and wouldn’t allow it.
‘My mother was horrified beyond belief so she sent me to boarding school to try and crack me … I loathed it with an intensity … I wagged church and was asked to leave, and I was thrilled but it was literally jumping from the frying pan to the fire.’
Sheri’s mother said she was ‘a disgrace to the family name’ and sent her to the local church for extra religious instruction. While she was there the priest would regularly abuse her. Sheri begged not to go but her mother said she didn’t want to hear about it and dragged her there.
She continued to complain but her mother wouldn’t listen to her, and the nuns wouldn’t listen to her, so Sheri soon learnt that nobody would listen to her. She told the Commissioner, ‘I wish there was somebody I could have gone to that would have believed me’.
She is sure the nuns knew what was going on.
‘Priests were gods … It’s like they were all gathering around the campfire to protect everybody. I look back now and I was a vulnerable kid, a lamb to the slaughter.’
Her abuser later became known as a serial offender and was imprisoned for child sexual abuse. Sheri said at the time people didn’t talk about such things, but it’s clear to her now there was ‘this business of just moving them on’.
In documents provided to the Royal Commission, Sheri wrote, ‘[The Catholic Church] protected and supported abusive priests, and did everything in their power to absolve themselves of any responsibility. And as rich as the Church is, they made sure they only paid pocket money to the victims’.
Sheri was given a small amount of financial compensation by the Church about five years ago and told to ‘get on with your life’.
‘That’s crap,’ she said. ‘I thought “You’ve got no idea”.’
The impacts on Sheri’s life have been significant.
Her schoolwork took a dive and she had a nervous breakdown when she was about 18. She still loved horses and was keen to join the mounted police, but was unsuccessful because they said she lacked confidence and couldn’t work in a team. This assessment of her abilities has dogged her throughout her working life and Sheri said she has become a loner.
Because of the nature of the abuse she developed an extreme self-loathing, particularly of her own body, and simply cannot allow anyone to get close to her. She had a daughter in her mid-20s and had terrible problems breastfeeding, unable to establish an emotional connection with her.
‘I remember the doctor saying “Something’s holding you back”. And it was – I didn’t want to get close to anyone really, that was basically it. I just couldn’t.’ She gave her daughter away and says now, ‘I should never have been a parent’.
Her daughter’s father was the first person Sheri had told about the abuse since school and he treated it as a big joke. That relationship failed and Sheri never married. She also told counsellors but did not find them helpful.
Sheri’s hatred of the Catholic Church is deeply entrenched. She lost a friendship because she wouldn’t attend the friend’s wedding in a Catholic church, and she refused to go to her father’s funeral because she couldn’t bring herself to enter the Catholic church where it was held. She hasn’t spoken to anyone in her family for 12 years.
Sheri lives alone, has very few friends and almost no social life. Now in her mid-60s, Sheri said she hates living and dreads the future.
‘People seem to think “Oh you’ll get over it”. This happened a long time ago, but if anything it’s worse now because now I see what I’ve lost.’