Alicia was delighted when Peter Nathan, the high school teacher she had a crush on, started paying her close attention in Year 9. She was a bit of a loner at her school on the New South Wales south coast. And with two emotionally distant parents at home, she was pretty sure that she was looking for a father figure.
‘Dad didn’t do much with us as kids, he was right into horse racing and all that sort of stuff.’
There were two or three girls who would talk to Mr Nathan at lunch time. His office adjoined the school hall, a little bit away from the other school buildings. Before she knew it Alicia was spending time alone with him. And a short time after that, ‘he kissed me and I thought oh, he must really like me’.
One day Mr Nathan sent a message up to her class teacher asking Alicia to come and see him.
She went around to the other side of the school where Nathan picked Alicia up and took her for a ‘drive’ in his car. Alicia thought they were just going for a drive, but instead, Nathan took her home, where he lived with his wife, and had sex with her.
‘It was like I’d lost my voice, I couldn’t say anything, because he was an adult.’
Alicia believes he even stopped to buy condoms on the way. Afterwards, Nathan dropped her a fair distance from her house. She walked home and had a shower straightaway.
They had regular sex for the next six months, not at his house anymore but in his tucked-away school office.
Deep down, Alicia says, she probably felt it was wrong but ‘he was paying me the attention that I wanted and this probably had to go along with it’.
Then in Year 10, she fell pregnant. Alicia hadn’t been taught much about the ways of the world - she remembers when she got her first period she thought she was dying – so the pregnancy was a huge shock. When Peter Nathan found out, his whole demeanour changed. He started avoiding Alicia.
She was confused. She kept going to school but didn’t tell anyone there what had happened, maybe to protect him.
‘I remember thinking when I fell pregnant that maybe he’d look after us ... leave his wife … all the stupid stuff kids think.’
Alicia told her mum the whole story. Sick with cancer and unsure how long she had to live, her mum insisted on meeting Peter Nathan to make sure the baby would be cared for. Alicia’s father kept ‘doing his own thing’.
A meeting was arranged. Peter Nathan shook her father’s hand and said yes, he would look after the baby financially. After that he avoided Alicia altogether. He never gave anything financially or helped in any other way.
Alicia left school after sitting her School Certificate. After her daughter was born, Alicia and her mum went to the Department of Community Services to sign forms she thinks were related to child maintenance. She doesn’t know what happened to them.
The high school sent Alicia a letter asking her to deny the rumour that Peter Nathan was the father of her baby. Alicia is mad at herself now for not keeping the letter but it made her so upset she threw it in the bin.
There was never any meeting at Alicia’s school about the abuse. Alicia doesn’t know if Nathan denied the pregnancy to them or who started rumours. But she remembers clearly that she was made to feel as though it was all her fault. And at the time she thought it was.
Alicia grieves for all the opportunities she lost because of the abuse and her early pregnancy. She’s sure she would have gone on to Year 12. She ended up getting married and having four more children.
Alicia’s friend Sandra told the Commission, ‘She’s so intelligent, she’s so artistic, it would have been a different life … but the expectations then were, you had a baby you didn’t get to go back to school … I’ve spent 35 years trying to tell her she’s not worthless but it’s really ingrained in her’.
Peter Nathan kept teaching at the same school and retired just a couple of years ago.
Alicia’s having counselling now which has helped her understand who she is and process the things that happened.
One of her recommendations to the Royal Commission is for schools to be designed with the safety of children in mind.
‘If he hadn’t had his own office, if he was in with other people, then that couldn’t have happened.’