Carmel Elizabeth's story

By the time Carmel met George Lehmann in the early 1970s she had already been subjected to years of sexual abuse. Growing up on a farm in regional Queensland, she had been molested by a tradesman who regularly worked at the property.

‘One of the unfortunate things is that he reminded me of my father, so I wouldn’t have anything to do with my father ... couldn’t hug my father.’

Carmel was nine when she moved to the Presbyterian school where Lehmann taught. He sexually abused her for the next three years, touching her breasts on multiple occasions. As Carmel was friends with Lehmann’s daughter, she visited their family home. She remembers being in the bath with him and his daughter – ‘that’s not right’.

She did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time, however she does remember that a female teacher expressed some concerns to her mother about Lehmann being left alone with children. She believes that Lehmann was later sacked from the school for kissing another student.

‘Around the time of puberty I thought that what had happened to me wasn’t quite right. And a process of denial took place.’

At high school Carmel became very withdrawn, felt ‘uncomfortable in my own skin’, and ‘probably already had depression’. She was scared to participate in classes, and if asked a question ‘I’d be embarrassed and wouldn’t speak’. ‘They thought I was retarded’, she told the Commissioner. In her mid teens she was sent to see a psychologist.

She was more comfortable when she got to college, and did very well in several subjects. ‘I remember sitting there and crying that I could do things.’ This success allowed her to get a traineeship and employment that she enjoyed.

Carmel did not think about the sexual abuse by Lehmann until she was in her 20s, ‘and this stuff just started coming in my head. And I had a friend who had been raped ... And we were talking, and I’m going, “Oh, but I was only molested”, like it was nothing. And she’s going, “Well, no, that’s just not nothing”.’

Her life became very difficult after this time. She experienced further sexual assaults, the breakup of her relationship, and her mental health declined.

Now in her 50s, Carmel has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and does not have any family supports. She has not worked for many years, receives a disability support pension, and has few friends or social connections.

Around 15 years ago, Carmel attempted to speak with police about Lehmann. She asked to speak with a female detective, ‘but basically she wanted to know times and dates, and there’s no way I can give times and dates ... it’s difficult. That teacher was there. She could have gone and found out if there is anything on the record about him. But I was just sent away’.

She has never disclosed Lehmann’s abuse to the school, as ‘I didn’t want to bring shame on my family’ in the community, and didn’t trust that she’d be listened to. ‘For all my experiences, it doesn’t matter where I go. Nobody listens anyway.’

Until she met with the Royal Commission, she was unaware that Lehmann had recently been charged for other sexual offences against children, and had killed himself before these matters could be heard in court.

Carmel has engaged in counselling for a long time, but although she has told her therapists about the sexual abuse in her childhood it is not something they have dealt with specifically. ‘They know about that, but I mean I’ve always had another issue that’s been more pressing than those things.’

She told the Commissioner that she spent more time looking after other people than caring for herself. ‘I’m one of those people that try to fix everything for everybody else and forget about themselves.’

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