‘I think because I was so in need of an adult … I really looked up to him. So there’s a lot of shame associated with what went on and that stopped me from ever saying anything to anybody. I felt responsible.’
Tarina’s early home life was difficult. Her father was absent and her mother was struggling with illness. In the early 1980s Tarina started Grade 5 at a Catholic primary school in Melbourne. Father John Hughes taught there and also knew Tarina through family friends.
‘I was pretty vulnerable at that time of my life’, Tarina told the Commissioner. ‘He showed me a lot of attention. I didn’t really have a father figure at that time … I feel like I was definitely groomed.’
‘He started off buying me cigarettes and alcohol and he promised to buy me a ghetto blaster. I just thought that was the most amazing thing.’
‘When I look back on it now it was calculated. He knew exactly what I was about and manipulated me.’
One afternoon after school Father Hughes offered to drive Tarina home in his car. Tarina’s sister usually travelled with her, but she was not invited. She was left behind to catch the train. Hughes sexually assaulted Tarina in the car. The abuse happened three or four times in this manner.
Hughes also preyed on Tarina on the school grounds, where he used to wander. The priests and Brothers had a residence there. ‘A couple of times I went in there during school. I had an experience there in the foyer with him.’
‘He masturbated while he held on to me. I can’t really remember - it was just all a bit of a blur, but I just kind of pretended that it didn’t happen, I think. That was the first time and then he came to my home and just kind of continued.’
The abuse occurred over nearly two years. ‘He told me I could never say anything to anybody and that, you know, he was a man of God … He just disappeared actually … I actually thought he’d been moved away, or something had happened because he just disappeared. I never saw him again towards the end of Year 6.’
Tarina felt the impact of the abuse immediately. She contracted shingles and blames this on the stress of the ordeal. She could not function and was bedridden.
Further problems developed in her teenage years. ‘I actually started drinking quite heavily in Year 7 and Year 8.’ When she was 14 Tarina attempted suicide by swallowing a bottle of her mother’s sleeping tablets. ‘I just slept for two days. Thank God I woke up.’ In Year 9 Tarina was asked to leave school.
‘I think I was just rebelling against it all. I just wish I could have those years back. I feel like I lost my childhood. I absolutely lost it. And that’s what makes me angry.’
Tarina went to live with her grandmother while she finished her schooling. She began to turn her life around. She describes her grandmother as ‘my saving grace – she was amazing’. As an adult Tarina threw herself into life. ‘I worked very hard and people started to show me a lot of respect because I have a great work ethic. I loved that. I earnt my own money, I became independent … I then had a family.’
Tarina’s husband and the love of her children has helped ground her. In recent years the work of the Royal Commission has triggered memories of her childhood abuse. At first she felt re-traumatised as she heard the stories of other survivors, but then she decided to reveal her own experience to her family, and more widely. ‘Talking about it has actually been an interesting experience, positive and negative, with my family, with my friends.’
‘I want my story to be important. I want it to matter.’
‘I think that fairness and justice are unfortunately two separate things, but I feel like I want to be this person, I want to show up and I want to be here for all the people that can’t be here. I feel like I’ve got that strength and I can do that.’
Tarina is aware that Father Hughes has died and she has therefore not gone to the police. She has also not considered engaging with the Catholic Church through any of their redress schemes. ‘I was never going to tell the Church that I had an issue. I think that’s just insane.’ She is exploring other legal options to take a complaint forward.