Susan’s mother was grateful for the break Brother John gave her when he took her children on hikes and bike rides. She was busy and exhausted, and Brother John was a Christian Brother who’d befriended the family through a cub and scout camp.
It was on these outings that he sexually abused the children.
When Susan disclosed the abuse and said she didn’t want to go with Brother John, her mother said that she didn’t want to know. ‘He’s a lovely man’, her mother said. ‘He’s helping our family, so you go with him and don’t lie.’ Susan tried several times to let her mother know about the abuse, but she was never believed.
Susan told the Commissioner that Brother John took the children to isolated locations and made them take their clothes off. ‘He’d make me sit on his lap and then he’d feel me inside and then my brother, he’d do that, and then he’d make us pose together for photographs.’
Brother John took other ‘innocent’ photographs of the children and these he gave to their mother. ‘My parents thought he was wonderful. My mother said, “Look at all these lovely photos we’ve got”.’ In later years, Susan told her father about the abuse and was relieved when he believed her. However, her mother still doesn’t believe it.
‘She ignores it. It’s self-protection. My father told me she was abused as well.’
The abuse by Brother John went on for five years until the family moved away from South Australia. Susan said her brother suicided at the age of 19. ‘He just couldn’t deal with life after the abuse.’ From the age of 16, Susan spent long periods in psychiatric institutions. She attempted suicide several times and severely self-harmed.
‘I’d withdrawn so far from my feelings. I did it so the pain was on the outside instead of the inside.’
Susan said her own breakthrough moment came when she was about 40 years old and heard a woman speaking publicly about experiencing sexual abuse as a child. She wished there’d been a person like that earlier in her life. She said it hit her when the woman spoke. ‘They’re my feelings. That’s what happened to me. And when she described how she coped with them, I thought if she can, I can too.’
In the previous 10 years, Susan had become involved with her local Anglican Church. She said she won’t go near a Catholic Church nor does she wish to follow up with any Catholic compensation scheme. Susan contrasted the Catholic Church’s approach to allegations of child sexual assault to her local Anglican minister’s handling of a suspected paedophile ring in their congregation. She said the minister informed the bishop, but when the bishop ignored the matter despite repeated requests for him to take action, the minister became a whistle-blower, making a public disclosure and reporting his concerns to the media. The minister then worked with the congregation and sent a letter to each Church member informing them about the matter and offering them professional counselling.
Susan said that her speaking to the Royal Commission has encouraged her sister to find the courage to recognise her own experience of child sexual abuse and start talking about it. ‘That’s what we have to do’, Susan said, ‘Keep talking about it’.