Virginia Helen's story

‘My whole life I felt like a nobody.’

Virginia spent the first two years of her life, in the 1940s, at an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. She has no memories of the place but has been told that she was severely malnourished when she left. She also understands, from accounts from older children, that the nuns sexually abused the children. Virginia doesn’t know if she was affected.

From there she was fostered by Mr and Mrs Wilson, who eventually adopted her when she was six. The Wilsons were very religious, as well as strict and cruel. Virginia was often locked in the cellar. She has no memory of welfare officers coming to check up on her while she was fostered.

One of the many distressing things about Virginia’s childhood is that her early life has gone without record. The orphanage has no file of her and nor does welfare. Virginia knows where she was but has no proof. There is no record of the first six years of her life, not even a birth certificate. Obtaining a passport was almost impossible.

‘It was as though I didn’t exist until I was actually adopted.’

Virginia was a quiet kid. Due to a serious illness she was unable to walk for a time, and was teased and bullied at school because of it. Between the ages of nine and 14 Virginia was sexually abused every week by Roger Feeney, her Sunday school teacher and choir master. She came into contact with him at the local Methodist church. She told her mother but wasn’t believed.

Virginia spoke about being forced, as a teenager, to marry a man who physically and sexually assaulted her. ‘My children have suffered because of it. With that sort of abuse you’re not really sure how to parent your kids.’ However, her second marriage was to ‘the most beautiful person’.

About 10 years ago Virginia reported Roger Feeney to the police and he was charged. However, after numerous adjournments at the defence’s request, the trial was only held quite recently. It was a traumatic experience for Virginia.

Feeney was allowed to sit directly in front of her. ‘His lawyer ripped me to shreds on the stand.’ The magistrate said the alleged abuse was a long time ago and that it was a figment of Virginia’s imagination. ‘I wanted to punch him in the nose but I’m not that kind of person. I felt completely abused again.’

Feeney got off, and Virginia became deeply depressed for months. She approached the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and was told that there were grounds for appeal but they had no funds. She couldn’t get victims compensation because there wasn’t a guilty verdict.

Virginia also tried to take her ex-husband to court and the stress of the two police investigations contributed to her having a stroke. Her husband died before the trial date.

Before Feeney’s trial, Virginia approached the Church. They suggested getting her and Feeney in a room together so he could apologise. They offered nothing more. ‘That felt like a slap in the face.’

Virginia is a determined person and would still like justice but realises she may have come to the end of the road there.

‘My life is full. I love my family. My grandkids are my pride and joy.’ Virginia tries to be as close as she can to her children, ‘but that’s not easy because I withdraw a lot. Because little things … I get quite hurt easily about things and I don’t know what to say. I withdraw’.

Virginia studied and got her first degree in her late 50s. She is currently finishing her second degree. She hasn’t had professional counselling but writing was a ‘huge thing’. She has written a book about her experiences.

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