After a man sexually assaulted six-year-old Angie in an empty classroom during the 1970s, no action was taken by either police or her South Australian primary school.
As a reward for good work Angie had been given a key to collect paper from the art room, which was beyond an unsupervised playground. When she approached the room a man in his 30s wheeled his green pushbike over to Angie, and asked for a glass of water. She didn’t have a glass and pointed out a nearby tap, thinking that ‘maybe it’s all right because he’s in [the] school’.
Angie thought the man had gone, but as soon as she put the key in the door he pushed her in and locked it behind them. ‘So it was all over then. I was trapped.’
When she found a paint jar for him to drink from – ‘I had no idea’ – the man began to undress himself and pulled her pants down. He then sexually assaulted her.
‘At that stage I was hysterical,’ Angie said. After a failed attempt to penetrate her he tried to cajole the ‘petrified’ little girl with encouraging statements, like, ‘Oh, if you do this I’ll let you out’.
He forced her to perform oral sex, then released her. She ran straight back to her teacher and told her ‘that a man scared me’.
‘And then I whispered in her ear [about the details] and I could see tears coming down her face. So I knew it was something bad but, again, I didn’t know how bad it was.’
Her teacher asked her to draw the man.
Despite immediate contact with the headmaster, and her mother who had been waiting to collect her from school, and ‘police everywhere’, Angie was not asked for a statement.
Nor was she taken to hospital for medical examination for injury or disease. She was not given access to a translator or support person as she struggled to explain what had happened without knowing the words to describe ‘penis and vagina’ to her mother, who did not speak English, in her own language.
The impact of this abuse was immediate and long-lasting. It affected Angie ‘when it came to relationships and the trust thing … even with my parents – not to say anything’.
‘It made me feel very isolated. It made me feel like a bad person … we moved and changed schools and I thought that was all because of me.’
Angie’s mother told her not to tell her father, fearing that he would find the nearest man who matched the description Angie had given and kill him.
Her mother ‘understands more now’. Before Angie’s private session with the Royal Commission, and now some years after her father’s death, she told her to ‘make sure you tell them [the Commission]. Do it for the kids’.
Angie began taking drugs aged 11 or 12 ‘to numb’ the memories but ‘stopped completely’ at 17 when she married ‘a very abusive person’, thinking it would be ‘a whole new lease on life’.
‘Even when I got married I was trying to explain to my husband that I have problems with trust and males … and he said, “Oh you’re a whore. It started from back then.” Charming! He was charming!’
After she found the body of a relative who had suicided, Angie took the drug ice ‘as a coping mechanism just to numb’.
Although she would now like trauma counselling, Angie has only ever had drug counselling. ‘They were saying to me, “You need grief counselling or something else. The drugs are not your problem. You don’t really fit the criteria for drug counselling because you pay your bills”, and everything else. I was going, “Oh, I still take drugs all day, every day”.’
Angie had never thought about compensation for the sexual abuse but agrees that a child ‘at that age’ should never have been left unsupervised, and thinks an apology now would ‘mean something’.
She had felt ‘ridiculed’ after the incident and remembered the police on the day of her assault as being ‘just awful’ to her.
‘I definitely wasn’t [taken seriously]. To think that they didn’t take me to hospital. That’s unforgiveable. Just because I couldn’t explain exactly what had happened, there may well have been some forensic evidence to be taken – definitely.’
Some kind of counselling afterwards ‘would have helped enormously’ but Angie ‘had no option’ but to ‘tuck it away’ and get on with her life. ‘I felt for a long time, especially throughout my whole primary school that, yeah, I’d done something to cause that. If I’d got some kind of counselling or just someone to sit down and explain to me that none of that was my fault.’
For her own children, security has been a big issue so from the start of their school lives. She sent them to a faith-based private school where ‘you can’t even read with the kids unless you’ve got a police clearance’. School must be a ‘safe environment’, she stressed.
Angie told the Commissioner that her parents had suffered extreme violence and abuse during their childhoods overseas and that together with her own childhood abuse, intergenerational trauma has reverberated throughout her life.
She is grateful for the work of the Commission in aiding appropriate responses for the children who speak up about sexual abuse in the future. ‘So, hopefully, this will save everyone else?’