In the mid-1980s Ana started at a state primary school in regional New South Wales. She didn’t like school much and was scared of her teacher, John Sherry. In the mornings Sherry acted nicely in front of the parents but ‘quickly snapped’ into a ‘violent, angry man’ in the classroom once they had left.
When Ana was six years old Sherry sexually abused her several times. He would accompany her to the toilets, ‘crouch down’ in front of her to assist her, and then digitally penetrate her.
Sherry also physically abuse Ana and her classmates in lessons, and ‘played games’ that involved inappropriately touching Ana’s breasts.
‘Other times was in the classroom, he was touching me all over … He used to do games where he’d get you to sit on him. He’d make you put your hands on your head and he’d tickle you under your underarms and across your chest and touch you everywhere.’
Ana didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. ‘I was only six. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t work out what was wrong.’
The abuse affected Ana significantly. She cried every day on the way to school and sometimes would ‘act out’. Her mother was very confused by her behaviour and wasn’t sure what to do. Sherry would help Ana’s mother in the morning and take Ana into class.
Halfway through the school year a group of parents reported Sherry to the principal and the police. Ana’s mother recalls Sherry being charged with offences against other children and appearing in court.
Despite this investigation Sherry continued to teach at the school, and Ana thinks he continued to abuse her during this time. It wasn’t until the end of the school year that Sherry was acquitted of the charges and transferred out of the school.
Ana was taken to the family doctor after the other children disclosed being abused, as her mother was worried about the effect this would have on her. The doctor advised her mother ‘not talk about it’, and that Ana was ‘too young’ and would ‘forget about it’. Counselling was not recommended.
Throughout her childhood and teenage years Ana was a ‘quiet and introverted’ girl. She became less affectionate towards male family members and was scared of other men. She found it difficult to trust others, and this continues to be an issue for her. Despite these impacts of the abuse Ana was able to graduate school and attend university.
As an adult Ana was in several abusive relationships. She suffers from depression and anxiety and has been in and out of therapy for over 10 years.
Ana first disclosed the details of her abuse to her mother when she was in her 30s. It took her a couple more years to report the abuse to the police, and her experience of reporting was inadequate. The police informed her that her school had removed files from that period, which has been very disappointing.
Ana is currently involved in civil action against the New South Wales Department of Education. She angry that she can’t recall all the details of the abuse, and believes that if she could remember it would assist both with her civil case and police reporting.