In the early dawn this morning at Heathrow airport, a man disembarked from a plane originating in Western Australia.
This man is the Anglican church minister who abused me when I was a teenager, more than 40 years ago. He stole my innocence, my belief in God, my comfort and ease in my home town, and my trust in authority figures.
After a very long legal procedure, he has today been extradited to stand trial in the UK for sexual assault (as well as me, there is a second complainant).
I wanted this blog to open by marking this important day. I have many emotions as this long-awaited moment finally arrives, but one thing stands out — this was the right thing to do, and it only happened because I kept my belief in that throughout (and a shout-out to my amazing UK solicitor, David Greenwood, and to a few members of the local police who were determined, in their own police-ey type way, that this would happen. Thank you all).
It has taken four and a half years. But this morning, it finally happened.
As a teenager, I was a member of an Anglican church congregation in my home town in England. I went to the minister for advice when I began to have “doubts” about my faith. He met with me in his private study as his children played next door in the kitchen. This was to be the start of almost a year of repeated sexual assaults. He told me that God wanted me to give him oral sex (and apparently this would resolve my ”doubts”). I complied — after all he was a man of God! He then stalked and harassed relentlessly, contriving situations in which we would be alone. He showed up regularly at my home, offering to take me out for driving lessons. No matter how many excuses I came up with, my mother always insisted that I go with him (“so kind of the minister!”). In the car, he would expose himself to me, masturbate, or force me to give him oral sex. He would do the same in places that we drive to on my “lessons”: remote country lanes, isolated beaches, even hayfields. He would lie in wait for me as I walked home from my Saturday job as a dishwasher in a restaurant.
I escaped, with inordinate relief, to go to university on the other side of the country in 1976. I tried to forget. But I was haunted by the thought that he had continued access to girls from a position of power and authority. In 1990, I began to look for him. He was no longer at the parish I had lived in. The Internet was still in its infancy and provided no answers. I pressed on. One day from my then-home in Hong Kong, I called a central national administrative office of the Anglican church in the UK and asked how I could trace a particular minister. I was told that the church published a worldwide directory of Anglican ministers each year. I ordered the 1991 edition.
The book arrived at my Hong Kong apartment several weeks later. It didn’t take me long to find him. Parish priest, Perth, Australia. Bingo.
Over the next 28 years, I pursued my goal of ensuring that this man would not be able to do to anyone else what he did to me. It took an awfully long time for me to steel myself to write out a full and detailed statement of what had happened to me: times, places, incidents, the whole nine yards. I used this statement to make a complaint to the Perth diocese (a creditably humane and efficient process for investigating sexual misconduct by clergy). By the end of 1999, the diocese told the minister that he would stand trial using a canon law process. Instead, he resigned. I received a letter from the Archbishop of Perth telling me that he would no longer be employed by the Anglican church. “I am very grateful to you for being prepared to make your complaint known in the way that you did. I hope now that you will be able to live with some peace of mind.”
Not done. 15 years later I discovered that he was still acting as a church minister in Perth, just at a different church denomination (the “Uniting Church”). Persuaded that there was critical value in bringing a successful civil lawsuit to force accountability from the Anglican church, and to encourage other survivors of clerical sex abuse to bring their cases forward, I filed proceedings against the church I attended back in the 1970’s, with David Greenwood representing me. After an article published by the Church Times in December 2015, the church agreed to sit down and negotiate with us. The lawsuit was settled with a compensatory award and most importantly, the implementation of new process for sex abuse claimant at the church’s insurer, Ecclesiastical Insurance Group. If you are interested, you can read about that here.
But one other piece to this story, wholly unanticipated, was about to unfold. In August 2014, I went to the UK for a much-anticipated family vacation in Europe. My youngest daughter and her friend travelled with us to London, and my older daughter and stepson joined us there. The night we arrived was a delightfully chaotic family rendezvous. Crammed into the tiny air B & B flat we had rented on London Fields, jet-lagged, and surrounded by unpacked suitcases, we were discussing where we might go for dinner that evening when my phone rang.
It was David Greenwood. “Can you talk for a minute? I have some news.”
David had just been informed by police that a woman had presented at my home town police station a few days before, saying that she wanted to report an historic sexual assault. She identified the same minister who had assaulted me as someone who had sexually assaulted her almost 40 years earlier.
I didn’t know what to feel. I had never imagined a criminal prosecution. My goal had always been to block, or at least constrain, his access to young people as an authority figure. David put the pertinent question: if there is a second complainant, would you be willing to work with police to prosecute the minister? Well, yes. I knew immediately that this unexpected turn of events would present an opportunity for a successful criminal case. I felt I had a responsibility to do this, and in participating to support the other complainant.
Which brings us to the man getting off the plane at Heathrow last night. Extradition is a complicated and lengthy process. But we persisted.
I hope that the readers of this new blog will appreciate sharing this experience with me. I also hope that any of you who would like to share your own thoughts and stories in the coming weeks and months will feel able to do so.
I shall keep you updated on the trial, expected to be in the next 3–4 months.