Val has good memories of the church youth club she attended as a child growing up in Tasmania. There were camps and a range of activities that she enjoyed. ‘There are also other memories that put a chill inside me’, she said.
One is of the youth group leader, Wally Anderson, holding her on his lap. ‘I would sit on his knee. He’d take off my T-shirt. I’d have a singlet underneath and he’d blow down the singlet.’
This happened in Wally’s office, easily visible to others. One person who saw them was Val’s older sister Shirley. Just a few years ago, Val learned that Anderson had been sexually abusing Shirley, and using Val as a threat. He told her ‘that he would do things to me if she didn’t agree.’ The sight of Val on Anderson’s lap filled Shirley with fear and kept her compliant.
It was the mid 60s, and Val was about six at the time. Anderson also drove her to and from youth club events, taking the long way home. Sometimes he stopped for 10 minutes or so at the drive-in cinema. These drives made Val very uncomfortable, though it wasn’t till later that she realised he had been masturbating.
Val, Shirley and their siblings were brought up alone by their mother after their father left the family. Though part of a large extended family, the girls’ mother didn’t reveal to anyone her financial struggles or mental health issues. The attitude was ‘What happens in your home stays in your home’, Val explained. ‘Within that tradition you don’t talk about things.’
Shirley came with Val to the Royal Commission. She said that her abuse came to an end when another of their sisters announced one lunchtime that Anderson wanted her to do things she didn’t want to do.
‘In front of us all, she said that to Mum. So we didn’t go to the club any more after that’, Shirley said. While Val told her mother about Anderson taking her to the drive-in, Shirley didn’t reveal what he had done to her.
Val believes their mother’s response reflects the barriers to disclosure that existed then. As much as possible, unpleasantness was tucked out of sight. ‘Any abuse was a shocking thing and you just had to hide it away’, she said.
‘I think that at the time – and I don’t know that it’s changed hugely – that the victim is made to pay, and … there is something wrong with the person who is a victim of this, rather than the onus being on the offender to be responsible for the behaviour they exhibit.
'For Mum, when she found out something had happened, her response was, “I will stop it from happening in the future”, not “I will step forward and say this is what this man has done to my daughter”, because it then becomes a public issue. And how will that impact on my daughter into the future?’
As a young teenager and beyond, Shirley suffered major medical problems directly related to the abuse she had experienced. She didn’t disclose the abuse to anyone but she said she would have, if anyone had asked.
‘No one ever asked me what was wrong’, she said. Instead she carried the secret until just a few years ago, when she shared it with Val and her husband. Her other sisters still don’t know. Seeking compensation for what happened is too hard, she said. ‘If I do that, how do I face the world?’
Val believes there are many victims of abuse who share Shirley’s fear of what people will think. It’s easier to disclose than it was, but it’s still not easy. ‘I think there still is a long way to go for people to feel safe to step out of their comfort zone of being hidden with the abuse.’
Val now works in social services, and is also a member of several charitable organisations. She wants to make a positive difference in her community.
Her wish for the Royal Commission is that it’s not just the government’s ‘flavour of the month’.
‘It’s my hope that the government doesn’t lose their focus on this issue, and that there are steps towards resolution for people who have been victims. But also that people have a very strong and very clear message from the Commission processes and the findings that people have a right to be safe, and … to speak out, [and] a right to be heard and responded to appropriately.’
There are very few children who make claims of abuse or ask for help who should not be believed, she feels. ‘They should know they’ll be taken as seriously as the pillar of the community who says, “Oh no, no, no, this didn’t happen”.’
‘I want children to know that if they do speak they will be believed.’