Throughout her story, Carmen referred to her abuser only as ‘She’, telling the Commissioner, ‘I can’t say her name’.
Carmen attended an all-girls Christian college in the mid 1970s. She described her first few years of high school as ‘just glorious’. Then when Carmen was about 14, a new PE teacher arrived on the scene.
‘Everyone noticed her straight away because she had such a style and manner of interacting with the girls that was much more friendly – and over-friendly.’
The teacher began to pay special attention to Carmen, selecting her for demonstrations and pulling her out of class to help with chores in the gym. One evening the teacher offered her a lift home. The next night it happened again, then again the following week, and a regular pattern set in.
‘I didn’t really know quite what to think of it. I was a bit anxious about it, but I’d just say thank you and get out of the car. And then one afternoon she started holding my hand.’
The teacher’s behaviour slowly escalated over some weeks to the point where she would not just drive Carmen home, but sit with her in the parked car for an hour or so, stroking and kissing her hand.
‘I was so confused because I didn’t know how to tell her to stop doing that. I felt uncomfortable and I knew that it was wrong, but it didn’t seem like a big thing to be wrong. It didn’t seem like enough to make a fuss, so I kind of let it go and I never told anybody.’
After that the teacher started ringing Carmen and taking her out on weekends. She took her to bars and gave her alcohol and cigarettes. One night the teacher pulled her car over to the side of the road, and began kissing and touching Carmen.
‘And this went on for about two hours, two-and-a-half hours. She said, “I love you, I love you so much”. She just kept saying that over and over and over. I kept thinking, “I’m 15 years old, this is too hard”.’
At one stage another car came by and the teacher forced Carmen to duck out of sight.
‘She said, “We can’t be seen, we can’t be seen, and you know this must be a secret. This has to be a secret otherwise I could go to jail for carnal knowledge”. So she knew it was wrong. She knew what she was doing was extremely wrong.’
Carmen said things ‘went wild’ after that. The teacher became extremely possessive and controlling.
‘She just hunted me down in the school, wanted to know where I was for every lesson – and if she couldn’t find me she’d get really angry.’
The abuse escalated shortly after Carmen left school.
‘I was still under 18 when there was an incident at her home … where she had sex with me on the bed. I didn’t have sex with her. I didn’t touch her.’
Sometime later Carmen moved in with the teacher and then ‘the domination was complete’.
Carmen never reported the abuse to anyone during this time but, looking back, she is shocked that none of the adults in her life ever tried to intervene. She said that the teacher took her out in public to sporting events and bars, introduced her to her parents and friends, and talked about her at school to teachers and students.
‘It was such an obvious inappropriate relationship, and there was such obvious psychological domination of me.’
Yet no one stepped in to stop it. At least not until after Carmen had spent several months living with the teacher.
‘It really took the intervention of her new partner. She sat me down one day and said, “You are under complete control of this woman, aren’t you?” And I said, “Yeah, she’s my life. She’s got my whole life in her hands”. And she said, “That’s got to stop”. So she really helped me see that I needed to break away from her. And I did. And she hated it. She hated it. She was so angry. And the new relationship she’d formed fell apart because of that.’
Carmen was at last free of her abuser, but by then much of the damage was done. Because of the teacher’s behaviour, Carmen was unable to study properly in her final years of school, got poor grades and had to give up her childhood dream of becoming a doctor.
Nevertheless, Carmen went on to get a degree and build a career in the community welfare sector. When she was in her 30s she ran into the teacher in a restaurant one night.
‘She said, “Hello”, and I said, “How dare you speak to me?” … I said, “In fact, the next person you hear from will be my lawyer. It won’t be me personally”. And then she yelled really loud, so the whole restaurant turned around. She said, “I always did the right thing by you”. And I said, “Well, no you didn’t, actually”.’
Since then Carmen has discussed the abuse with her cousin and her sister, and she is currently seeing a psychiatrist. She’s now looking into the possibility of reporting the teacher to police.
‘I want her to have to answer for it in some way. And that’s why I want to go to the police. I know what she’ll do, she’ll deny it all, but I want her to know that it’s been done, that I’ve gone to the Commission and I’ve gone to the police.’