When Vanessa’s mother discovered that her husband had sexually abused Vanessa when she was a child, she told Vanessa, ‘“Women were put on this earth for men to touch, to play [with], when they get bored, when their wife doesn’t want to do things. That’s why women were put on this earth” … And little girls, you know, “Little girls get touched”.’
Vanessa’s mother was a very cruel woman who physically and emotionally abused her children. When Vanessa went to high school, she thought, ‘everybody got a hiding … I thought that everybody got beatings’.
When her parents separated in the mid-1960s her mother placed her children into care so that their father couldn’t find them. Vanessa was 11, and she and one of her sisters were sent to a Catholic orphanage in Western Australia. Because of their age difference, the girls were placed in different sections, so they didn’t see much of one another.
‘I stayed at the orphanage. I hated the orphanage. It was a terrible place. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong to be there … We were like little slaves … “Go do this. Go and do that”.’ Vanessa now has chronic knee problems from scrubbing floors when she was a child.
One day the visiting priest asked Vanessa if she had made her first holy communion and when she said, ‘No’, he arranged for her to go to his office every Saturday to learn the catechism. ‘At first he was really nice, you know. He used to have Fanta … and biscuits and things like that.’
After a couple of Saturdays, the priest began asking Vanessa to sit on his knee so they could read the catechism together. ‘He’d be wriggling around and he’d sort of put his hands around me and play with my chest, even though I had no boobs at that stage.’
The priest then went into the bathroom and returned about 10 minutes later. He warned, ‘“Don’t tell anybody. This is our secret, because you won’t be able to have a cool drink. You won’t be able to have lollies, and you won’t be able to have biscuits anymore”. So I thought, okay then.’
Vanessa told the Commissioner, ‘There was lots of Saturdays … One day he really hurt me. He was putting his fingers inside me and it was really hurting’. When Vanessa told the priest she didn’t want to see him anymore, he asked her if her younger sister had made her first communion. Vanessa kept going to see the priest, to save her sister from being abused.
When Vanessa began bleeding after the priest sexually abused her one Saturday, she went to see one of the nuns to get some clean underwear. The nun, thinking that Vanessa had started menstruating, sent her to the nurse.
The nurse wanted to know how the blood got on Vanessa’s underpants, and asked if she could examine her. Vanessa wouldn’t tell her what happened, and refused an examination. She just told the nurse that she didn’t want to go to catechism anymore and didn’t want her sister to go either.
Vanessa stopped going to see the priest on Saturdays, but saw him on the orphanage grounds. She tried to avoid him and when he approached her, she ‘remember[s] sort of pulling my arm away and [I] said, “I don’t want to go back to you. I don’t like you”.’
Vanessa ‘couldn’t tell my mother. I couldn’t tell the Sisters. The Sisters were not nice … They were really horrible and if you did anything wrong, there used to be a big … cupboard … and they’d put you in [there] and tell you all about the spiders and cockroaches and all that sort of thing’. Vanessa didn’t tell anyone about the priest, ‘in case I got put in [there]’.
Vanessa returned to live with her mother when she was 12, and her stepfather began telling her that she was very pretty and that he was going to marry her one day. ‘And I believed him.'
When her mother was in hospital, her stepfather raped Vanessa for the first of many times. When her mother noticed that 13-year-old Vanessa had not asked for pads for several months, she realised that Vanessa was pregnant. She called her a ‘dirty, filthy bitch’ and kicked and beat her so hard that Vanessa had a miscarriage.
In the late 1990s, after a family tragedy added to the memories of her childhood abuse, Vanessa went to see a psychologist. ‘I told him everything. I told him about the priest. Told him about my mum. Told him about whatever, and he was my saviour, really. He really was.’ Vanessa continued to see her psychologist for about 10 years.
‘The amount of times I’ve tried to commit suicide, tried to die, before I went and saw [the psychologist]. I tried. I slit my wrists … I took pills. Horrible things.’ Once she had children, Vanessa knew, ‘I could not commit suicide … That would be a betrayal for them’.
When one of her children asked Vanessa what she would achieve by going to the Royal Commission, Vanessa replied that she didn’t know but, ‘I’ll be able to tell my story, the whole lot. Get it over and done with.’