Susan Jane's story

‘I was passed around like a sex toy by my father and [two other male relatives]. At times the three of them would rape and sodomise me for hours and hours. Over Christmas holidays … I would be kept in a caravan and visited on a regular basis by the three wise men, and what they brought me was never a gift …’

‘I had two more monsters in my life: my mother and a priest. So for me I had a monster for every day of the week, and even God rested on the weekends. But my monsters never took a day off.’

Susan’s mother decided to show her what would happen if she didn’t keep her ‘big dirty secret’. She grabbed Susan’s left wrist and used a pair of pliers to torture her. ‘The pain was agonising … The next day she did the same to my right hand.’

When she was 11, Susan ‘started becoming a bit more aware of my body and I truly believed it happened to everyone. This was just how you grew up. This was normal. I didn’t know any different. It was second nature to me. I can’t remember exactly what the thing that sparked, “Hang on a minute” … but I knew I needed help’.

Susan sought some advice from other children at her primary school in regional Victoria, who told her that a priest was someone she could talk to if she was in trouble. She went into the local Catholic church, where the priest told her that because she wasn’t Catholic she would have to speak to him in his house, rather than the church.

They went into the presbytery and she told the priest what her family had been doing to her. The priest told her that he was God, and that he could heal her by doing the same things to her that her family had done.

‘He … physically tortured me and he used to, I’m just going to say it. I have no words to … Nothing changes if it doesn’t come out, so …’ Susan described how every Friday afternoon, the priest raped her vaginally and anally, forced her to perform oral sex on him, and inserted crucifixes and rosary beads into her vagina and anus. ‘The pain was shocking … I thought he was going to kill me.’

He told her ‘that if I told anyone that he was healing me, that my parents would kill me, and it had to be our secret, and I was going to be his special angel, and he would help me … I was so scared and hurt … I thought that because he was God, and God sees everything, that he would strike me down if I didn’t go to church on Fridays for his special healing’.

In the 1970s, when Susan finished primary school, she didn’t have to walk past the church anymore. She began to think, ‘Well, hey, I’m copping it all week at home, God can just hate me. He can strike me dead right now, but I’m not going back. And of course, nothing happened’.

No one in Susan’s small town ever noticed what she was going through. ‘I was hurt all the time. I was bruised all the time. I had bite marks on me. Scratch marks on me. You name it. How on earth I lived in that town and no one did nothing, I’ve got no idea. But I was physically and mentally just broken.’

Susan reported the priest to the police, but the police officer didn’t believe her and told her she would go to prison if she continued to lie. She reported her family and the priest to her headmistress during her first year of high school, but because her much older sister had been a ‘ratbag’, the headmistress thought Susan was just being a troublemaker as well.

‘When you’ve gone to the church, you’ve gone to the police, you’ve gone to the high school headmistress and they all turn you away, who else is there to go to?’

Susan’s mother became seriously ill when Susan was 14, and was hospitalised in Melbourne. When Susan’s father phoned to say he was coming home from visiting her mother, Susan decided she had to get away. She fled to Queensland where she was taken in by caring family members who were aware of what had been happening to her.

Susan has suffered from mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, for a long time. She had blocked out the sexual abuse by the priest until it suddenly came back to her in the mid-2010s. Before that, she couldn’t understand why she always had panic attacks when she went past a church, or saw anything related to churches or clergy.

When Susan consulted a lawyer about suing the Catholic Church, she was informed that it would be almost impossible to succeed.

She received the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing package, but she decided not to pursue it because she would have had to sign a confidentiality clause. ‘They’ve gagged me for 40 years. I’m not signing something so they can do it all over again … I’m not shutting up.’

Susan told the Commissioner, ‘I’m here today because I feel like I’ve carried around, dragged a dead donkey behind me for 40 years. No one listened. No one cared. And coming here is the first time I’ve ever spoken about this to someone and they’ve sat and listened. They didn’t turn me away …

‘[I needed] to stand up and fight for myself. I’ve hated myself all my life because I didn’t fight hard enough … I didn’t do enough to save myself. And today, I stand up for myself. I stand up for that little girl that had no one to stand up for her 40 years ago. Today’s her day. So I can leave here today knowing that I’ve done it. I couldn’t do it then, but I’ve done it today.’

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