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Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Years of sexual abuse, perpetrated by a priest who exploited a family connection to gain access to Abbie as a young child, has had a profoundly destructive effect on some aspects of her life for decades.

Abbie’s family had a strong affiliation with the church and had known Father Paul, a senior clergyman, for many years. He took advantage of these circumstances to abuse her between the ages of seven and 11 years.

Father Paul would visit the family a few times a year, staying several days on each occasion. During these visits he would take Abbie on days out alone. She describes how he made her feel ‘special and cared for’, which was important to her, as there were some problems with her parents at home.

She recalls Father Paul having intense conversations with her about the need for physical discipline in families and changes her body would experience as she grew up and turned into a woman. These talks led to him touching her intimately.

Looking back, Abbie thinks she was not scared at the time, but now recognises how he groomed her to sexually abuse her. She never told anyone what was happening. After she was confirmed in the church, Father Paul suddenly stopped visiting. Abbie has no idea why or whether her parents suspected anything was wrong.

Abbie believes that overall, she dealt with her childhood experiences quite well, with occasional periods of upset when certain incidents happened.

But when she was in her 50s, she began to understand the impact the sexual abuse has had on her. She has had a successful career, lots of friends and has travelled, but she has never had a serious relationship and feels her sexuality was ‘put into a box’ when she was a child.

She says that some time ago, when she spent time with a male friend, her sexuality began to emerge, and she realised why she had been avoiding it.

She felt things she had never experienced before but there were sexual thoughts that were very upsetting for her. After the abuse ceased, and as she grew older, Abbie says she came to think of Father Paul as a ‘dirty old man’.

She says: ‘What he did to me has had a huge impact on my life; he destroyed me as a sexual person and as a young person growing up.’ 

In some ways, in terms of her emotions and her sexuality, Abbie feels she has never really grown up and she has applied certain self-protection measures. She has also suffered a lot of health problems. On a positive side, she has always been able to engage well with children, which has been important in her career.

Abbie is now receiving support from a counsellor and is working through the feelings of anger and worry over her sexuality, and how the abuse has impacted on her life.

Her many good friendships have been very important to her, particularly as she has not entered into any partnerships. But she is very sensitive to any upset or discord with her friends.

Despite the fact her abuser was in the church, Abbie has retained her faith and says it has always been very important to her. But her experiences of turning to clergy for support regarding the sexual abuse have not been helpful.

She has tried to discuss it with different church members a few times – the first when she was in her 20s – but has been met with disinterest on each occasion.

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