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Teagan's story

‘He was able to say that I enjoyed it, I got paid for it and I was a prostitute.’

As a girl, Teagan wanted to be a girl scout. However, there was a small fee and her parents didn’t want to pay for her to attend. Teagan’s grandmother suggested she clean the local Catholic Church priest’s quarters for a small sum. She lived a short distance from the church and was happy to drop Teagan off and pick her up.

In the mid-1960s when she was 10, Teagan was cleaning the room every Sunday after mass. It wasn’t until several months later that she came into direct contact with Father Wither, the local parish priest. Wither immediately liked Teagan and appreciated her support, and offered to pay her an extra 25 cents.

Wither began sexually abusing Teagan whenever she cleaned his room, then called her ‘a prostitute’ for accepting his payment. She felt confused and knew the abuse was wrong, but liked getting the money so she could buy things for her siblings and go to scouts. So she kept silent.

Teagan also felt she couldn’t tell anyone about Wither because her family were parishioners and close to him, and she didn’t want to let down her grandmother. The abuse continued for two years and occurred every week after mass.

‘I didn’t tell anyone because my nana had asked me to do this and it was a good thing to do. I got the money for it, which I have to say I liked.’

Teagan was constantly wetting her pants because of the abuse and was punished by her mother for doing so. Teagan began to hide her underwear and wash it herself because she didn’t want to get in trouble. She found her mother intimidating and was afraid to tell her about Wither.

When she was 13 Teagan’s family moved away from the parish so she could attend high school. She stopped cleaning Wither’s room and went out of her way to avoid him.

In high school, Teagan learnt what prostitutes were and she learnt about sex. She said this traumatised her and she felt so embarrassed by what happened that she became reclusive. She met her teenage boyfriend when she was 17 and found sexual intimacy frightening.

‘I never knew if I was a virgin or not, but I really wanted to be. That’s when I started thinking about it again. I ended the relationship with the young man that I loved dearly and slept with somebody who was the wrong boy from the wrong side of town. So it didn’t matter who I was or what I was.’

Teagan often took risks and slept with people she knew she shouldn’t. She hated herself from the age of 17, something that didn’t change throughout her adulthood.

She turned to alcohol to relieve the pain, and self-harmed at work by burning and cutting herself. She said it was easy to do because she worked in hospitality. Teagan has had suicidal thoughts and has overdosed on prescription drugs several times. She’s been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and in the past has been hospitalised.

In the early 2000s Teagan found out that Father Wither had died. She learned that he continued to be a priest for over five decades. She was disgusted that people of her town knew he had a reputation as someone who gambled, drank and was always late for mass. That everyone knew what he was like and didn’t say anything deeply disturbed Teagan.

Teagan first disclosed the abuse to her psychiatrist in the late 2000s. She then told her family, which affected her connections with her siblings and parents. At the time of her private session Teagan was interested in approaching the Catholic Church for compensation. She also wanted an apology.

Teagan came to the Royal Commission to have her story heard. She’d been encouraged by other victims coming forward and she said she often shares the news with her friends and family. It was a relief, she said, after so many decades to be able to open up and disclose what happened without having to justify herself.

‘I can act on everyone else’s behalf but I’m only just learning to do this for me now.’

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