Around a year ago Anthea’s five-year-old daughter Melanie reported that Mrs Wilson, an education assistant at her public primary school, had ‘tickled her privates’.
‘At first’, Anthea told the Royal Commission, ‘we did not want to believe it’. During the next week, however, Melanie told her father and sister that Wilson ‘put a finger through a hole in my pants and touched my privates and it tickled’.
Melanie also spoke of seeing other children being abused, physically and sexually. They took her to a psychologist, who ‘confirmed that her behaviour and demeanour were consistent with a child reporting experience of sexual abuse’.
The psychologist asked her to draw pictures of adults at the school. ‘When she did not want to draw a picture of Mrs Wilson he asked her why, and she disclosed that Mrs Wilson had touched her on her privates.’
It was arranged for Melanie to be interviewed by the police’s child abuse team. ‘Before leaving the house she had been crying, and even threw herself on the floor saying she felt scared about seeing the police.’ Anthea believes Melanie was frightened because Wilson had told her bad things would happen if she spoke to police.
Anthea and her husband were never interviewed. Police ‘did not take any background before speaking to Melanie alone’, or talk to the psychologist Melanie had disclosed to.
When Anthea offered to speak with the officers interviewing Melanie, she was told there was no need. ‘I thought it was strange but assumed I could trust they knew what they were doing. We were refused permission to be in the interview room or monitor room.’
After the interview, Anthea was told Melanie ‘gave similar detail but told them it was a dream. They said they could not see indications she was lying’. She believes ‘saying it was a dream was a self-protection strategy employed by a young child as the idea of talking to the police was distressing her’.
It concerned Anthea that ‘instead of investigating further why our child was “dreaming” of child sexual abuse, the police told us they could not investigate’.
The officer she spoke to in the following days ‘informed me that we could bring Melanie back at some point in the future when she was older if she was still saying something had happened’. He said matters could take years to go to court, and that it was very rare for a woman to sexually abuse a child.
A legal firm Anthea consulted, ‘informed me the under-resourced police only tend to use their resources to investigate when they feel certain they will achieve a successful prosecution. This unofficial policy excludes young children and female abusers’.
Anthea later learned police had reported to the Education Department that ‘I had frightened my child into having nightmares by teaching stranger danger’. Anthea reports that her family uses different methods to teach their children protective behaviours, and that police never asked them about this.
‘The police have scapegoated me as a poor parent, without a conversation with myself or my husband, or the psychologists we have seen, and instigated a tremendously traumatic process for my entire family. This has added greatly to the trauma of the situation of assisting a child who has been sexually, verbally and physically abused.’
The police notified Child Protection of the allegations, but Anthea thinks Child Protection also failed to conduct an adequate investigation into the matter.
Anthea reported the abuse to the Education Department in writing, and assumed that Wilson would be suspended while a proper investigation was conducted.
Instead, when they met the school’s principal they ‘found out the perpetrator, Mrs Wilson, was shown our letter by the principal, and has signed a statement saying she was innocent of the allegations’. They were advised the matter was ‘concluded’, and Wilson continues to work at the school.
They chose to remove Melanie from the school. ‘Our child, who had bravely spoken about the abuse despite the tricks used by Mrs Wilson, was now effectively punished by the system as she was removed from her friends, adding to her trauma.’
Anthea worried, too, that Wilson could potentially tell other kids who she was abusing that ‘Melanie spoke out and her parents said she was a liar and took her away from her friends’, and that this might deter them from reporting.
At home, they continued to get Melanie to use drawing as a way of describing her experiences. ‘She started to draw pictures of the other “bad secrets” she said she had. They included violence and digital penetration. She had bad nightmares after drawing each picture.’
This process was gruelling for Anthea. ‘Sitting with her while she was doing those drawings and stuff, I had to be not feeling my feelings. It was hard enough as it was.’
Anthea supplied these drawings to police, as well as recordings of Melanie discussing the abuse. She questions why they didn’t have a children’s psychologist assess this documentation.
Anthea fears legal or other ramifications if they speak out further about the abuse Melanie experienced, and the abuse they believe has happened to her classmates.
‘The system has effectively forced us into silence or we will be sued, so we now feel we are essentially in a position of protecting someone we believe is a prolific child sex abuser. We have had to relinquish Melanie’s closest friendships because we can’t tell the parents the details of the harm we feel their children have experienced.’
They have explained to their children that they should not talk about this abuse to others. ‘Our older daughter is very distressed by the actions of Mrs Wilson, and the lack of police action to protect other children from harm.’
One of Anthea’s greatest fears is that they will lose Melanie, as Child Protection ‘have on record from the police that I have traumatised our child and thus we are vulnerable to the removal of our child from our care’.
Melanie herself seems happy that she talked about the abuse, despite the fact that Wilson had threatened her not to. She told her sister the family was to have a special dinner, ‘to celebrate that I tricked Mrs Wilson. She tricked me and then I tricked her. I told her I would keep it a secret then I didn’t’.