Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Veronica

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Veronica’s father passed away when she was young and when her mum became terminally ill the family started looking at children’s homes for Veronica to live. Her siblings were fostered, but the foster parents didn’t want Veronica as she was deaf. A home was found which had a deaf school attached.

Veronica was placed in a children’s home run by nuns. She was subjected to cruelty and abuse from a few of the nuns, including one who was particularly sadistic. No one in the home signed, so communication was difficult for Veronica. It was run by four main nuns. Veronica recalls that she liked one of them, but the others were very cruel.

The fact that she was deaf added to her vulnerability. Her experience when she disclosed her abuse to the police and the church added to her distress.

At first, Veronica remembers being very happy, particularly as there were other deaf children at the school she attended when she was at the children’s home. She adds that the school was very strict and if she got a ‘C’ mark, she would be beaten.  

Veronica would often be alone in the home with the nuns. It was during these times that much of the abuse happened. Veronica believes the nuns thought she was ‘stupid and deaf’ and that she was targeted because of this.

One day, a nun called Sister Colleen gestured to Veronica to come and pushed her into a spare room, saying things she didn’t understand. She remembers Sister Colleen being very close to her, pushing her and trying to touch her upper body.

She tried to get away and locked herself in a room, but Sister Colleen unlocked the door and looked between her legs. The nun pushed Veronica onto the bed and tried to use a rounders bat to penetrate her.

She describes how panicked and shocked she felt. Another nun came up and the abuse stopped, but Sister Colleen gestured to Veronica that if she said anything that she would be in a coffin in the garden.

Veronica was terrified and tried to avoid Sister Colleen, but the abuse continued on more occasions when she was the only child left in the home. Sister Colleen would force the bat into Veronica’s private area. She says she tried to scream but couldn’t and had pillows put over her face.

She remembers crying because of the pain and Sister Colleen saying ‘Stop, be brave’. Veronica couldn’t walk and would be bleeding afterwards, but when other staff came in Veronica had to ‘put a brave face on’.

Sister Colleen would also physically abuse Veronica, punching her in the head, and she would lie to other people about the bruises, saying ‘I bumped my head’. But underneath, she says, she felt ‘preyed on and was so angry’. 

She had periods several times a month and thinks this was due to the abuse. She did not have regular access to doctor when she was growing up. She had a social worker who visited the home every six months, but she couldn’t sign and would just mouth to her ‘Are you alright? I am going to a meeting about you.’

Veronica describes how she used to feel very happy when she packed her bag for school as she knew she would be away from Sister Colleen. She would ask her friends in school if she could go back with them during holidays, so she didn’t have to go back to the home. Social services had to approve her going to friends’ houses, and she remembers the relief she felt when approval was given. She dreaded having to stay in the home at Christmas.

One staff member could sign a little, and Veronica liked her. This person raised a concern with the canon about physical abuse in school, but Veronica says that apparently he became angry and didn’t believe the staff member. Veronica was heartbroken when the member of staff told her she was moving on.

When Veronica was about 15 years old, Sister Colleen left the home. Some older nuns arrived who would force her to look after all the younger children. She remembers she would let the kids do what they wanted and when nuns came back to check on them, they would hit her.

About two years later, she went to stay with a foster family, but they were very strict, and she ran back to the home. When she turned 18, she then found herself a flat ‘in a nice area’.

Although she says she wanted to have baby, she has avoided any type of relationship.

Veronica describes how seeing reports about the Jimmy Savile case gave her flashbacks of the abuse she suffered. She had not said anything about it for more than four decades, but in this time, her mental health deteriorated, and her best friend said that she had changed. She knew she needed help and was referred to psychotherapist.

She reported the abuse to the police but felt disappointed with the process. When they emailed her to say they were going to have to close the case, she challenged them, asking ‘Do you think I am lying?’ and received a response that was ‘angry in tone’.

She describes this a low moment. She felt was angry and stressed and thought ‘Maybe I am better off killing myself’. But she says, she then remembered ‘I have lovely friends and people I call family.’

Some time later, a new police officer took over the case and reported to Veronica that they had found Sister Colleen. By this time, the nun was in her 90s and living in a care home. The police described her as ‘vulnerable and she is very old’, adding that she was showing signs of dementia.

Veronica was shocked the police described her like this. To her, Sister Colleen was not vulnerable, simply old. Veronica felt it was she, as a child, who had been vulnerable.

Sister Colleen was interviewed by the police and claimed that that she had never met or known a deaf child. Veronica showed the police an old photo of herself as a child with Sister Colleen, but police said that they were going to close the case.

Veronica says, looking back: ‘I don’t know why Sister Colleen did what she did … maybe she didn’t want me to have kids in the future’. She has not been able to have children and thinks the impact of the abuse may be the reason.

She wrote a letter to the head bishop in the diocese and recently met with representatives from church’s child protection unit. However, communication was poor, she feels that the church representatives twisted her words and that she was valued less than Sister Colleen. She says she wanted to give it all up, but her friend advised her to carry on.

Veronica comments that everyone thinks that nuns and the Catholic order are not capable of doing anything wrong, but she feels that there have been clear failures by the church and a cover up.

She would like someone to apologise for what was done to her and acknowledge it was wrong. She particularly wants to see communication barriers removed for deaf children and adults.

By sharing her experience through the Truth Project, Veronica hopes to help children who are now suffering. She says she doesn’t want anyone to go through what she did.

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