A Female Victim's Recovery

By "MARY", a victim of Marist Brother Francis Hesford at Kilmore, Victoria, at the age of 9 in the 1970s

It is best described as a "shattered windscreen" effect. You notice the initial chip in the windscreen and it really angers you. This is the initial abuse.

Then you get so used to the crack that is forming you ignore it and don't really notice it getting bigger but it's still an irritation. You think, "So the incident has happened. It's over. That's life. Let's press on." But this is when the secrets start to gnaw at your conscience. The guilt sets in.

Then you start looking around the cracks in the windscreen, moving from side to side, making decisions with your vision slightly impaired. Still ignoring the obvious.

Pressing on gets a little harder and each day is a straggle to see things clearly. I got stronger as my mind had the offender dead and buried. I honestly thought he was dead and my secret with him.

Eventually most of your vision is blurred. You start to blame yourself: "If only I hadn't driven down that dirt road, that stone would not have damaged the windscreen. Why didn't I see it coming? Why wasn't I in control of the situation?"

The offender can't be wrong, he's from a religious order. He can't possibly be at fault - 1 must be. As a child, religious brothers, priests and nuns were as high on a pedestal as the sun.

I remember when I was about 9 years old, sitting in a pew waiting for Confession thinking, "If only I had died when I was younger; I know I would have gone to heaven." (What right has anyone got to make a child feel that way?)

I spent the rest of my life being the martyr; turn the other cheek and all that sort of thing, trying to make up for my unforgivable sin. I wonder how many times I had to do that; always wanting to fix the unfixable, whether it was a smashed pot or the broken heart of a foster child, regardless of the needs of myself, my husband and sometimes my own children.

When fostering children, I was required to attend a series of workshops to help deal with their circumstances. One was on sexual abuse. A key factor was that the children (the victim) was not to blame for the situation. I knew that of course and once I could relate this fact to myself, the penny dropped. So began my difficult road to recovery and a new level to my life.

Many months of counselling enabled me to speak to my sisters and eventually my parents. My parents also felt an overwhelming flood of guilt. I had to deal with this while trying to reassure them that they were not to blame either. These things were a very necessary agony on a path to healing.

When my mother told me that Brother Frances was still alive and sending her Christmas cards every year, my beginnings to recovery were shattered. I couldn't bury my guilt with a man who was not dead. For although I had been told it was not my fault, after all those years of feeling guilty, I could not just wipe it away.

Finally, six months later, when I came to terms with the guilt, I made a police report. Many, many months later Brother Francis was convicted and I sought restitution from the Marist Brothers.

The path to my freedom from guilt has been long and winding and many times tedious but my vision of the future is now clearing.

See report on page 16 about Brother Francis Hesford's conviction ("Marist Brother had female victims")