Siobhan was born into a Catholic family in Melbourne in the 1960s. She told the Commissioner, ‘I was from a family that was in turmoil. My brother went to the school for help. Brother Pat came to our house, I believe in the guise of a school counsellor type of role’.
In time Brother Pat became a family friend who would often babysit Siobhan and her siblings as well as other kids in the neighbourhood. When Siobhan was nine years old he started paying her more intimate attention.
‘He gave me numerous gifts and was very kind – exactly what I needed. But as time went on I started to feel uncomfortable but was doubting myself about what was going on: “Hang on, he’s being so kind so why am I feeling so uncomfortable about him giving me this gift?”’
Looking back, Siobhan believes that while the actual touching was confusing and harmful to her, it was the grooming process itself that really damaged her in the long run.
‘I lost my capacity to judge a safe situation because these really great things were happening for me yet I felt so uncomfortable, so I couldn’t trust what was going on for me, and I think that led to me feeling unsafe wherever I went … Even to this day the only person that I 100 per cent trust – and that includes my own children and my husband – is myself, and that’s a really lonely place to be.’
The abuse lasted from when Siobhan was nine until she was 11. It came to an end because she discovered that she’d grown a pubic hair and this suddenly shifted her perception of the abuse. ‘He used to show me pictures of women and you had to point to the sexy bits et cetera, so I knew that pubic hairs were rude so I didn’t want him to see it.’ Soon afterwards, when Pat came into the room to abuse her, Siobhan called out for her brother who called back asking what she wanted. That was enough to spook Brother Pat who left and never abused Siobhan again.
By this stage Siobhan had already begun self-harming and acting out in other ways. ‘I was psychologically isolated, I was physically isolated and I started drinking when I was 12, just to get myself out the door.’
She skipped school frequently and on one occasion missed two full months of classes. Still, nobody asked what was wrong. She said the general attitude to her situation was, ‘That sounds like something difficult, let’s not go there’.
This attitude surrounded her throughout her teenage years. At 19 she told her parents what Brother Pat had done to her. ‘And just like me not being at school, just like being ignored, that too was just completely ignored.’
The situation had barely improved 30 years later when Siobhan decided to bring her complaint to the Catholic Church through its Towards Healing process. They offered her six free counselling sessions but nothing else. ‘It was really, “You be a good girl and it will all go away”. That was really the response.’
The police were no better. Siobhan spoke to an officer in the early 2000s. He mentioned some other cases to her then said, ‘Yours is nothing compared to those’.
Fortunately, when Siobhan tried again a few years later the situation had significantly improved. The police took her complaint seriously, began an investigation and eventually charged Brother Pat with a number of offences against her and several other victims.
The whole process took many years and Siobhan said it could take a few more before Brother Pat is finally brought to justice. It’s been a long and gruelling battle but Siobhan is determined to see things through to the end.
‘If I had of thought that I was the only child that Brother Pat abused I wouldn’t have put myself through these years and years and years of trying to have him arrested, I wouldn’t … But because I absolutely knew that I wasn’t the only one – not that I’d even met any of these people and conversed with them, but I’d seen photographs that he’d taken of naked children – I knew that I had to keep going.’