Amanda Jean's story

As a kid, Amanda was always a tomboy, she said.

She thinks perhaps that’s what annoyed the deputy principal at her state primary school, in a Queensland coastal town. It was the late 1960s, and Amanda was about 11. The deputy principal, Roseanne Willis, singled Amanda out for ‘cruel and unusual punishment’.

Or it may have been because Amanda’s mother was a single mum, who struggled financially. Willis labelled both Amanda and her mother ‘sluts’.

Amanda was also sexually assaulted twice at the school, by a visiting school nurse.

‘I was unsafe and I suffered serious sexual, physical, spiritual, mental and emotional harm from which I am yet to recover’, Amanda said in a statement she brought to the Royal Commission.

Willis said that Amanda ‘sat, talked, walked, played and acted like a boy’, Amanda recalled. ‘I was confused by her contention as I was accepted by my friends and my mother as a tomboy. I was frightened of Miss Willis. I could not see that I could ever be how she wanted me to be. I was how I was. I went to school every day in fear of what might happen.’

Amanda was pinched, punched and slapped by Willis. She was also caned. ‘I could be punished for various reasons, for example not being feminine, not having proper uniform, shoes, school books or food’, Amanda said in her statement. ‘The reason for me being ill-equipped for school was due to financial hardship. This was neither mine nor my mother’s fault; she was doing the best she could, earning a meagre wage and without either family or government support.’

Looking back, Amanda believes Willis may have colluded with the school nurse who sexually abused her. The nurse visited the school to carry out health checks on all the students. When it came to Amanda’s turn, the nurse instructed her to take her underpants off and lie on the bed. Amanda objected but the nurse insisted, telling her she had to check whether Amanda was growing properly. ‘I believed I had no choice’, Amanda recalled.

‘The nurse penetrated my vagina roughly with her fingers, without the use of gloves or lubricant. She was feeling around inside of me. It was uncomfortable and it hurt.’ The nurse lent on Amanda, pressing her down to make sure she couldn’t move.

‘I felt there was no physical escape. I was too scared to call out. I remember lying on my back with my eyes shut and my arm across my face, trying not to be there, I cannot remember anything else.’

The following year the nurse again visited the school to do health checks. This time Amanda asked another girl if she’d been internally examined. The girl said no. ‘I remember feeling upset by this and feeling scared.’

The nurse again instructed Amanda to remove her underpants. Amanda refused. The nurse sexually assaulted her, Amanda said, in the same way as she had before – ‘There was no consent and it was by force’.

Amanda didn’t tell anyone what had happened. ‘There was no safe person at that school for me to speak to.’ She didn’t want to upset her mother and, even now, doubts there’s anything she could have done. ‘We were in a powerless positon … As a family we were frightened of any welfare involvement.’

Amanda’s experiences at the school made her aware of her ‘difference’, she said. ‘Because of this I understood that others may wish or do me harm. I decided somehow my difference was wrong or bad and for this I developed a sense of shame about myself. This fear of other people and sense of shame continues to impact my relating behaviour publically and privately.’

At her government high school, Amanda was targeted again, this time for being openly gay. As a 14-year-old she discovered that the child welfare department had her name on a list of students to be made state wards. She left school before this could happen. At primary school, she’d been very successful academically, being among the top five in state-wide tests. As an adult, she completed her high school education and gained a university degree; she was continuing her studies at the time she spoke to the Commissioner. She is angry about the loss of opportunity that her treatment at school led to.

‘My life outcomes were really damaged, I think. I think I had great potential and they destroyed it, really. I didn’t get a chance, back then.’

Amanda has struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide throughout her life. ‘It’s just managing it as best I can’, she said. Regular counselling sessions were starting to help, but the impact of the abuse was still with her. ‘I think I’ll carry it till I die, for sure.’

Amanda had first disclosed her abuse to friends, in her 40s. She had come to the Commission because she wanted her experience recorded, but she didn’t plan to report it to police.

‘I just wanted to put it somewhere finally official. That’s my story’, she said.

She hoped the Commission’s work would result in independent support that students could access, such as helplines.

‘It’s very different today to what it was then, isn’t it … Most schools would have procedures in place, I think, now. But at the time for me there wasn’t anyone I would have spoken to. So if there was systems in place I still wouldn’t have used them’, she said. ‘Often if there’s something going on in the school the last place [students] are going to want to report is to the school, because you don’t know who to trust … It needs to be external I think.’

She also felt education could help.

‘I think even with all the best intentions and with all the best policies, abusers still abuse, don’t they. So you really need to empower children. To educate them. Like safe schools and things like that. Those sort of programs so they can know where to go to get help for whatever they need.’

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