Margaret came from a religious family in the southern suburbs of Sydney. She enjoyed a happy childhood with her parents and siblings. Receiving a Catholic education was an honoured family tradition.
This all changed when Father Cox moved to the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Caringbah, where he was assistant to the Parish priest. Father Cox would visit Our Lady of Fatima Primary School and also attend Church. As a religious family, Margaret’s parents trusted the charismatic and engaging Father Cox, who befriended the family. They allowed him to take Margaret running at the local oval most school mornings.
Father Cox’s sexual abuse of Margaret started in the same year he moved to the area, when Margaret was 11 years old. First there was touching: he would put his hands down the back of Margaret’s pants and touch her bottom, then moving them around to touch the outside of her vagina. This behaviour continued on a regular basis for about four years. She remembers the first time that he inserted his finger inside her vagina, causing her pain, fear and alarm. In addition to this touching, Father Cox would take Margaret to a private place and remove her clothes. He would then fondle her breasts and vagina, rubbing his penis against her body until he ejaculated. This also began when Margaret was 11 years old.
As Margaret got older the abuse worsened. When she was 13, Father Cox took her to a private room, rubbing himself against the outside of her vagina until he ejaculated. He would bring brandy with him, and also force her to masturbate him. Margaret found this particularly terrifying due to the fact that there were people outside the room while the abuse occurred.
When Margaret was 15 years old, she was raped by a stranger. With her history of abuse by Father Cox, Margaret did not develop natural protective mechanisms to realise that, when the man pulled down her pants, he was doing something very dangerous and wrong. She was shocked when the rape commenced, screaming for him to stop. She told Father Cox about what had happened to her. After this event, Father Cox also began to have intercourse with Margaret regularly, until she was 17 years old.
At this point, Margaret fell pregnant to Father Cox. Father Cox encouraged her to ‘deal with’ the problem, and paid $200 for an abortion. Margaret had desperately wanted to keep the baby. After the abortion, Father Cox ignored and avoided Margaret, causing her extreme distress.
Kelso Lawyers supported Margaret in meeting with Church officials and gaining a meaningful apology and sizeable compensation payment.
Margaret notified the Church of the abuse in 1996 however the response she received compounded her trauma. After Margaret disclosed the abuse to the Church, Father Cox was put ‘on leave’, although he continued to be financially supported by the Church, living in a Church property. He was then ‘retired’ until his death in 2008. Margaret was referred to Towards Healing, but found the process confusing. Ultimately, it amounted to nothing for Margaret.
Margaret also reported the abuse to the police. This resulted in a criminal trial which was a harrowing experience. She felt as though she was the being treated as the perpetrator, being asked confronting questions regarding her adolescence and being accused of trickery in pursuit of compensation. Father Cox’s defence was funded by the Church. He was accompanied by a priest, while her family was not permitted in the room. The guilty verdict, and sentence of two years periodic detention, was overturned on appeal, on the basis that the appeal judge found it improbable that the abuse had occurred with the regularity that it did.
This episode reinforced what Margaret had been told by Father Cox during the years of abuse: if she told anyone about what was happening it would only cause scandal for her. When Father Cox died in 2008, a glowing obituary was published by the Church. One of the Bishops concelebrating the service had earlier acknowledged that the abuse had occurred. Margaret felt this as yet another insult from the Church.
Margaret found the claim process difficult and, at times, distressing. After it was over, however, she felt that she was really able to move forward with her life and was happy that she worked with Kelso Lawyers to achieve such a positive outcome.
The trauma of this abuse – repeated and compounded over the years with the responses of the criminal justice system and the Church – has had a dramatic impact on Margaret. She has suffered constantly with feelings of guilt that the abuse was her fault, that she was bad, dirty, and that her feelings of loneliness and worthlessness were deserved. Her emotional development was halted when the abuse started, when she was 11. This has caused significant ongoing challenges in maintaining relationships with partners and with her family. Margaret has a history of relationships with destructive men and continues to fear physical intimacy. Situations that remind her of the abuse, such as her son’s christening at the same Church, have resulted in severe physical reactions, including stress rashes, headaches and feelings of nausea. She has attempted suicide multiple times.
With the assistance of Kelso Lawyers, Margaret was able to meet with Church officials and their legal representatives and explain what had happened to her, and the devastating impact this had had on her life. She received an unreserved apology which was later reiterated in a written apology. Kelso Lawyers also negotiated a sizeable compensation payment in recognition of the abuse and injuries she suffered.
Margaret found the claim process difficult, and at times distressing. After it was over, however, she felt that she was really able to move forward with her life and was happy that she worked with Kelso Lawyers to achieve such a positive outcome.