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Bree's story

‘For half an hour, once a week, I had someone to talk to. Not necessarily about anything important, but it seemed that he thought I was alright. Someone worth talking to. Then it seemed that he had feelings for me. Maybe I had feelings for him. He was young, flamboyant and talented.’

Bree’s life at home was ‘almost intolerable’. Her father was ‘unpredictable, verbally abusive, and at times physically violent’. She and the rest of the family ‘had minimal contact with other people and were quite isolated’.

Kyle Sanders was one of Bree’s teachers at her Lutheran high school in South Australia. It was the mid-1990s and Bree was 15. ‘I so needed to feel loved and accepted. By someone. He seemed to be that someone. It was very confusing. And stressful. When he started to get physical, I largely panicked and shut down.’

Sanders sexually abused her on several occasions over six months. ‘The last time Kyle touched me, I panicked and told him it was too far.’ Another teacher had almost walked in to the office and seen them, but Sanders had locked the door.

Bree wasn’t the only student Sanders was abusing. ‘I realised, in time, that there were others. Other students that he was being inappropriate with. I heard that he was sleeping with one of the Year 12s. I went to talk to him one lunch time, and walked in on them kissing ... I felt so much worse than I ever had before.’

Bree and another girl from her class approached a female teacher, ‘to tell her he was inappropriate in class. We said we would speak to him first. She said she would speak to him if he didn’t listen to us ... There was no follow-up’.

Bree became so distressed she could not eat or drink. ‘Unable to function, I spent a lot of time writing poetry. It was the only thing that I could do. I’d never done it before. I had to get something out of me, or I’d implode.’

Towards the end of the year, she got drunk at school. Her home teacher ‘could see I was a mess and had been drinking, and asked what was going on. I told him some of it. He told me about mandatory reporting, and began the process of making a police statement’. This teacher accompanied her to the police station, as she did not want to speak about the abuse with her mother.

For the last weeks of school, Bree ‘felt alienated, and very alone’. Her home life was extra hard now that her mother had been informed of the abuse by police, and was ‘hysterical’ that Bree had not disclosed it herself.

The principal of the school came and spoke with Bree several times. ‘He suggested I stay at home, so that Mr Sanders could be at school. He was unhappy with my decision to stay at school. I’m fairly certain I told him I couldn’t handle being at home.'

Sanders left the school, but continued to teach elsewhere for the next two decades. Bree is angry that the principal did not take any action to prevent this, and so Sanders had the opportunity to abuse further students. She did not receive any counselling, acknowledgement or apology from the school.

‘I felt less than worthless. It didn’t occur to me at the time that the school owed me anything ... as I didn’t believe I was worth anything.’

The police decided to prosecute Sanders and Bree provided further statements. She also gave them some poetry and journal entries she had written at the time, as evidence. She had to make sure the pages were dated, so ‘under stress, I put dates on the relevant pages’, using her best estimation. The principal refuted the date on one of these entries. ‘It was my understanding that the case did not proceed, based on this.’

This process and outcome ‘undid me’. Bree sank into depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. It was hard to keep up her studies, and she used illicit substances to cope. ‘Thankfully, when I was 21, I decided to get my life on track and start again.’ This included attending a residential rehabilitation program, which helped her give up drugs and provided her with counselling.

After 20 years, Bree spoke to police again, spending two days providing additional information. ‘The detectives were very apologetic about the poor quality of police work that had surrounded the other statements’, and did not understand why the matter did not proceed initially. A criminal case, encompassing numerous victims, has recently begun.

Bree is now married, with children, and pursuing her career goals. She is very vigilant about ensuring her children are safe. ‘My husband thinks I’m a bit paranoid; he doesn’t quite understand. But I’ve tried to explain to him that you can’t undo these things. If your worst fears are realised, and something happened, it can never be undone.’

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