Anne and her daughter Charlotte attended a joint private session at the Royal Commission to discuss the abuse that Charlotte suffered as a child and the consequences that went on to affect the whole family.
Anne told the Commissioner that because she never received a good education herself, she was determined to send her kids to a decent school. So when the local public school failed to measure up, she sent Charlotte to a Catholic school near the family’s home in regional New South Wales. It was the early 1980s and Charlotte was 12 years old.
Within a week, Eric Reid, a teacher at the school, took an interest in Charlotte and began to pay her extra attention. ‘It started off as being quite innocuous’, Charlotte said. ‘I think the term in the literature is “grooming”.’
Unbeknownst to her, Anne was also being groomed by the teacher. She said, ‘Not long after Charlotte started there, Eric Reid rang me and asked me to go into the school to see him about Charlotte … He said he wanted permission for Charlotte to stay back after lessons because he wanted her to be the best maths student’. At the time Anne was thrilled that the teacher was taking such a keen interest in her daughter. She said, ‘I got sucked right in’.
Charlotte started staying back after school to have private sessions with Mr Reid and from there the situation changed. Charlotte said, ‘It began with touching and then he would increase it and I think by the time I was in Year 8 I was regularly babysitting for him on a Tuesday night and then he was having sex with me and then there were also some quite sadistic features of the abuse that began around that Year 8 mark’.
The abuse lasted about two and a half years, during which time Charlotte made several attempts to report Mr Reid to her teachers. At age 13 she told her PE teacher what was going on.
‘And I was explicit about it. I said that we were having an affair and we were sleeping together and having sex, various things like that, and what did she think I should do about it. And she said to me that I should find someone my own age.’
The teacher took no further action. Later, Charlotte told her science teacher what was happening, and he also did nothing. Charlotte didn’t tell her parents because she was afraid of getting into trouble, nor did she mention the abuse explicitly to anyone else, but she did hint at it with several other teachers, including, Sister Rachel. ‘She said that men have different needs to women and I should remember that, you know, in my life. Don’t know if she was referring to Mr Reid.’
Looking back, Charlotte suspects that Mr Reid discovered that she had reported him and wanted to punish her for it, which was why his acts became increasingly sadistic over the next few years. When Charlotte was 15 she decided she couldn’t take any more. Again she reported Mr Reid to one of the teachers, but this time she took along, as evidence, one of the many Valentine’s cards he’d written her. The next day she was called into the principal’s office.
‘Mr Reid was there. She sat us down next to each other and she said she needed to take notes, this was a very important meeting, Charlotte, and that you must tell me the truth. And she said, “How many times did Mr Reid have sex with you?” And he was sitting at a desk like this and he had his hand down here and he went like that, indicating four, the number four, and I said, “Four times”. I don’t know why four times is even important or whether that makes it somehow okay, but it was probably more like 400 times.’
A short while later, Anne arrived at the school, along with Charlotte’s stepfather. They met privately with the principal. As Anne remembered, ‘I think Tony asked was it actual intercourse, in his very Catholic way, and the principal said yes, it happened four times and that Eric had assured her that he withdrew before he ejaculated and there was no risk of Charlotte being pregnant’.
Anne said she was shaking at this stage. When Charlotte entered the room she immediately rose to hug her daughter. ‘She was very tense and she withdrew. And that was really hard.’
The principal asked Anne if she planned to contact police and Anne replied that she wasn’t sure. Mother and daughter then left the meeting both feeling that the principal had branded them the guilty parties. Once outside Anne took Charlotte by the arm and suggested that they go immediately to the police station and make a statement, but Charlotte was against it. In retrospect she believes she was ‘under the spell’ of Mr Reid.
Reid left the school that day and there was no more abuse, but still it took some time for his ‘spell’ to break. Anne described to Charlotte the moment she felt was the key turning point. ‘I remember sitting on the side of your bed one day, you were crying and wanting to see Reid. I said, think of this, Charlotte: if it was your stepfather having an affair with his 15-year-old secretary while he’s married and he’s got all these little children at home, what would you do? And you turned to me and you said, “I’d kill him”. And it was as if the light switched on in your head at that stage and you realised that what Reid was doing was wrong.’
Now free of her abuser, Charlotte went on to excel at school and then university. But even as she succeeded academically, her mental health was falling apart. ‘In my 20s I was a basket case … I was in and out of psych hospitals in my 20s and early 30s. Suicide attempts. I was abusing prescription drugs.’
In the early 1990s Charlotte reported Reid to police. He was charged and initially pleaded not guilty, only to change his plea at the very last minute. He went on to spend four years in jail. Meanwhile, Charlotte pursued her other legal options. First she sought and received a victims of crime compensation payment, then she sued the Catholic Church. She found this process unnecessarily painful as the Church fought her every step of the way and only offered a small sum of money in the end.
From there Charlotte set about rebuilding her life. With medication and the help of a supportive, loving partner she has stabilised her mental health and managed to raise two kids. She said that dealing with the legacy of the abuse is an ongoing battle that ‘casts you into a space where you feel so terribly alone … but at least I’ve been able to sort of tell my story and be heard for the first time’.
Anne echoed the thought, saying ‘I feel excited to come down and speak to you about it because as I said I’ve had nobody to talk to about it’.