‘Telling my parents … that just floored them. They still don’t understand that that was illegal. They really don’t kind of get it. Because I was consenting, they don’t quite understand.’
It took Caitlin a long time to decide to tell her story to the Royal Commission, not least because for many years she did not realise that what happened to her constituted child sexual abuse. Neither did her parents.
When she told them she had decided to go to the police, they couldn’t understand why.
‘[I remember] her saying “You would destroy his life and destroy his career. Do you really want to do that? He wasn’t a predator, do you think that’s a good idea?” … I think my parents were stuck, they didn’t know what to do.’
Caitlin first met William Andrews when she was 14 and he arrived as a relief teacher at her private girls’ school in Melbourne in the late 1990s.
‘I immediately felt a connection to him or showed an interest in him because he was a bit quirky, he was a bit of an enigma. Teachers at private schools, they need to be very normal and conservative and he was not that. He was a bit odd. And that’s what I felt …
‘I always felt like I was a little bit different and that nobody understood me. And that certainly was a significant factor in why this relationship developed.’
Caitlin was an only child and her father was away a lot for work so she said she was craving closeness with a male figure at the time.
‘I think a big thing for me that I’ve struggled with is really being aware that I actively pursued him and the shame and the guilt that kind of comes from that is enormous. And that’s probably been the biggest barrier for me in working through all this.’
When Caitlin was in Year 10, Andrews was offered a permanent position and became her English teacher. He also started tutoring her privately at home, and this is when their friendship became closer, despite Caitlin’s mother being present in the house. There was an age gap between them of more than two decades.
‘We spent a lot of time talking about how “our relationship’s weird, isn’t it? It’s not what a normal student-teacher relationship is”. And I think that he was genuinely confused by it. I don’t think he was a predator, I still don’t feel that way.’
Andrews left the school but continued to tutor Caitlin at her home.
‘We had conversations about how “nothing physical can happen until you finish school because that constitutes rape”. So he actually had insight into that.’
At the end of Year 11, she went to his house for the first time and the relationship became physical. At one point Andrews’ brother and sister found out and were going to report it to the police but Andrews persuaded them not to in case it adversely affected a custody battle he was going through at the time.
Caitlin said while their sexual activity only occurred at Andrews’ house, she thinks teachers at the school would have known something was going on as she often visited him in his office when others were there.
‘I wanted to tell my friends at school and I did in the end, ‘cause they all knew him from when he’d taught them at school, knew that he was tutoring me, and I started to tell them as well about this secret …
‘My parents have said since that they started to get a hunch, they always knew we had a really good joking relationship, but they started to guess that it was something more than that at some point while I was in Year 12. I think they were very confused, they didn’t know what to do about it. My dad has said he felt really guilty because he wasn’t there a whole lot … How they tried to rationalise it for themselves was their biggest fear was if they said I couldn’t see him, I’d run away from home.’
When she finished Year 12, Caitlin and Andrews celebrated their relationship publicly. She was 17.
‘My cousin … said “You’re the talk of the school, everybody knows, there’s been rumours going about you.’ And I said “Well, it doesn’t matter now, there’s no issue with it any more. We don’t have to keep it secret”.
‘I’ve also found out since that one of my friend’s fathers actually called my dad out of the blue and said “Do you know that this is going on?” And I think that coincided with when school finished and things could be out in the open anyway and so my dad said “Yes, we do”.’
After high school, Caitlin went to university and found it difficult to integrate Andrews into her new group of friends. It still felt like she had to keep him secret, so she broke off the relationship. Andrews reacted very badly, becoming emotionally manipulative, and Caitlin said she felt a lot of guilt about it. ‘I remember just feeling so responsible for completely crushing him.’
In the mid-2000s Caitlin’s mental health deteriorated and she started seeing a psychiatrist.
‘It wasn’t until we started talking about it and having him validate that what happened was wrong and despite kind of the jokes that are made in society [about younger girls with older men] … all of that shame, it wasn’t until he said it was actually his responsibility to say “You know what, no”. It wasn’t until then that I was able to start … thinking about it in a different way.
‘I think it’s had more of an impact on my life than people might realise. It’s had impacts on my intimate relationships. It’s had impacts on my capacity to have a normal functioning sex life, on how I operate in the world, how I view myself, it’s had huge impacts.’
She said she had long thought of herself as the ‘seductress young girl’ ruining a man’s life.
‘That’s how I viewed it for so long, I felt that I was this promiscuous young woman who was seducing him.’
She later reported to the police and, even though she decided against prosecution, she found it immensely validating to have them confirm that the grooming and sexual activity was a crime against her, despite her consent.
‘That’s something I struggled with for many years. I would have a lot of nightmares and I would also think that I saw him when I was on the street and have this wave of panic … So I think this is about taking that control back, and that power back. If I see him now I know who’s got my back now. So it is that shift in the power differential.’