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Annie Lee's story

‘I recognise that other people wouldn’t have approved so I kept the details of our relationship a secret.’

In the 1980s at a private college in Melbourne, Annie developed a ‘crush’ on her teacher, Nigel Danes. During class she’d be told by him that she was a gifted student and he often showered her with praise and attention.

At 11, Annie was offered a scholarship which meant that as she moved into Grade 6 she’d have private lessons with Danes.

During the lessons, Dane began tongue-kissing Annie, and would move her legs on top of his and touch her thighs.

She felt that his charismatic personality influenced her as she tried to ‘please and impress him’. The private lessons continued throughout the school year, and Annie came to believe that because she was in a ‘relationship’ with Danes she couldn’t tell anyone what he was doing. She also didn’t think his behaviour wrong, and she had become ‘besotted’.

When Annie was 13, Danes suddenly disappeared from the school. She heard a rumour that he’d threatened an older school girl with poor grades ‘if she did not sleep with him’. It was also said that he’d raped that girl. The school didn’t disclose anything about Danes’s sudden departure, and with the knowledge of her mother, Annie rang him to find out what happened.

‘He brought it up, I have a transcript of that conversation that I wrote out in my diary. He said, “Did you hear what happened to me?” I said yes, and he said, “I was badly treated by the school, they didn’t ask my side of the story. They didn’t tell me why I was fired so I took them to court”.

‘I didn’t know it was about unfair dismissal. He just said that he took them to court and he won. I thought it meant that the charges were falsified.’

For two years, Annie and Danes continued contact over the phone. She would call him every two to three months with updates on her life and how school was going. She then started having lessons with him in his home in a nearby suburb, and these continued for the next three years.

Annie remembers at 15 being uninterested in things that appealed to her classmates. She was distant from them as Danes continued to hold ‘a boyfriend type role’ in her life. He would take her on dates, hold her hand and drive her home from sports practice. She felt she ‘was getting something from him’ and ‘didn’t want to stop’.

After Danes left the school, another teacher, Mr Walsh, took his place. Annie believes he found out about her private lessons with Danes through classmates, because he one day spoke to her, urging her to discontinue them. No other action was taken about the matter.

Annie later learnt that Danes won his case because the school had not followed proper procedures of dismissal. She’d believed that the sexual abuse allegations against him had been dropped and was upset to later find out Danes had lied. The college agreed to settle with Danes because the two girls who’d been abused by him had been too distressed to follow through with their disclosures. The school gave Danes a reference and asked one of the girls who’d been raped not to tell her parents. Annie understands that the school did not report Danes to the police.

Annie entered her adult years feeling confused about what had occurred with Danes. It was only much later that she came to understand that what Danes had done was wrong. She also later found out that Danes had abused other children at different schools.

In the mid-2000s, she confronted him and asked why he’d done what he had, but he wasn’t remorseful. ‘He believes he hasn’t done anything wrong.’

At various times Annie has experienced episodes of major depression, and for more than two decades she’s had psychiatric and psychological assistance. When the police contacted her in the early 2010s about Danes, she felt relieved that her story was being heard and believed. Both Annie and one of the other girls who’d been abused at school were asked to give evidence in court. Danes was convicted but received a suspended sentence.

Since then Annie has contacted a lawyer and she is considering taking civil action against the school. She felt the culture of the school was one of ‘cover up’ and during the time she was there there’d been no support or outreach towards her or other girls.

At the time of Danes’s trial the school’s principal had contacted Annie ostensibly to offer support, but Annie felt that she was in fact trying to get information from her.

‘[The school] had blanket statements about student welfare being their top priority. Whereas if it has been when I was a student, someone would have asked me if I was okay and contacted my parents.’

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