Anita recalls an unhappy and stressful childhood when she was growing up in Melbourne in the 1970s. She told the Commissioner that her mother was very physically and verbally abusive. ‘A lot of it from my mother. A lot of being hit, scratched, all of that, a hell of a lot of that … and you’d get your verbal abuse, you know, you’d get “You’ve ruined my life” … things like that.’
Anita attended a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Charity and was ‘conscientious … hardworking’. With her turbulent home life, the bullying she experienced at school for being placed in the gifted stream, and a broken romance, Anita attempted suicide at school when she was 16. ‘I tried when I was going to attempt suicide, and I tried to talk to one of my friends, and they just wouldn’t be sympathetic, like … I told them I’m desperately unhappy … they won’t help you.’
After the suicide attempt, Anita spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital and then returned to school.
Just after her return she attended a school concert and one of the teachers, Mr Packer, offered to drive her home. Instead, he took her back to his house and asked her in for coffee. He made ‘lots of moves on me’ and in her vulnerable state, she agreed to have sex with him.
‘I obviously said okay with his, wants to go ahead and have sexual intercourse, and all the rest of it … I don’t say “No”. Now I look back at it, I mean I was probably a good person to pick for them because people may not believe me because I just got out of a psychiatric hospital … so that’s gone ahead there, and then that’s continued like on a weekly basis for the whole rest of my schooling.’
Two other teachers, friends of Mr Packer, were aware of what was happening. When Anita expressed some concerns about it, the female teacher told her ‘I think it’s good for you to learn about relationships’. The male teacher made comments such as, ‘Oh, how’s that going with him … I heard that was a good night’.
Anita told the Commissioner, ‘He was affectionate … but he was getting a lot of benefits out of it … but I’m very upset that … seven days or so after I get out of the psychiatric hospital and made a school-based suicide attempt he’s onto me like a rocket and that’s very upsetting’.
After she left school Anita discovered Mr Packer was also having sexual relations with one of her friends. A female family member, several years younger than Anita, told her that he had also been doing the same thing with girls in her class. ‘He seemed to be a serial, you know, abuser of school kids.’ Anita suspects that the school may have known about Mr Packer but, ‘We’re not going to admit it to you, ‘cause then we’ll be in lots of trouble’.
Her sexual abuse had a devastating effect on Anita’s already-fragile relationship with her parents. ‘Once I got out of [the] psychiatric unit, they never had a chance to try to repair the relationship within the family because as soon as I got out, this was all on. I had to lie and cover up endless secrets and you know, make up a million lies to cover what was happening. And that was a huge thing.’
Anita’s experience with Mr Packer has influenced the way she relates to others. ‘It makes you feel in a way like you have to find support or you know, love, and friendship some way, like you know, you have to use sex, say, to buy support, friendship, love and that’s probably … it makes you feel like … people in general won’t support you, even in workplaces.’
‘I want to protect other people’, Anita said, explaining why she came to the Royal Commission. ‘Because he’d only be like, what? 60? He could be teaching. He could be whatever. I want to protect other people from … He’s such a charming individual, isn’t he … he’s charming his way through everything.’