Caroline’s father worked in three concurrent jobs to ensure his large family was cared for. Part of his wage went towards paying Trevor Cooper to teach Caroline the piano in the family home. However, neither of Caroline’s parents realised that while Cooper, a lay preacher at their Victorian Apostolic Church, was teaching the piano, he was also sexually abusing Caroline.
Caroline said she didn’t think to tell anyone about the abuse. Her mother suffered from depression, she didn’t see her father very much, and ‘we were brought up as a "turn the other cheek", you know, giving sort of family’.
In the 1960s Caroline was eight years old and attending church several times a week with her family. She told the Commissioner that when she had piano lessons she wore several layers of clothing in an attempt to mitigate Cooper’s behaviour.
‘Back then you had slacks and I’d put a pair of undies, a pair of slacks, another pair of undies and a pair of jeans on top, and I’d tuck everything down so it would make it so hard for him to get at me. And I would be exhausted because I would be trying to learn the piano and I would be, “Please don’t do that”, without saying it, but he did whatever he wanted to do. And he would not only do that, he would slobber all over me, kiss me all over here, just touch, all that, all the time.’
The abuse continued for three years until one day Caroline’s mother had a piano lesson with Cooper and he touched her inappropriately on the leg. She banned him from the house. Caroline still didn’t tell her mother about what Cooper had been doing and though he no longer visited the home, he found other ways to intimidate her, including sitting too close to her in church.
In the late 1970s Caroline disclosed the abuse to her mother who went to church elders and demanded they take immediate action against Cooper. She was met with denials, with church officials accusing Caroline of lying and saying that Cooper was an ‘upstanding’ member of the church community.
Many years later Caroline told another senior church member about the abuse. He sympathised with her, and said ‘that’s not very nice’, but didn’t ask anything further about the abuse or take any action.
When she was in her 30s, Caroline reported the abuse to Victoria Police. She was disappointed by their response. The officer who took her statement said she’d ‘heard worse than yours’, and told Caroline not to ‘hold your breath, it could take six months or something before you hear anything back’.
Police officers interviewed Cooper who at first denied ever knowing Caroline and then produced various doctors’ letters saying he was ill. The matter wasn’t pursued any further. Caroline considered making a claim through the victims of crime compensation scheme, but was put off by the detail of information required for what she was told would be no more than a few thousand dollars.
‘I said, “Forget it, I’m not going through it just for that, it’s not worth it, that’s insulting”, because my dad paid good money for all those years thinking I was learning the piano. He lost all that money. I believe he should be compensated.’
Years after the police had decided not to press charges, Caroline went to Cooper’s house and confronted him at his front door about the abuse. With his wife standing behind him, Cooper began throwing money from his wallet at Caroline and told her to leave.
In the early 2000s Caroline rang his home and was told by his wife that he’d recently died. She said that on his death bed, Cooper had admitted abusing Caroline. ‘I said, “Pity the bastard didn’t admit it to me while he was alive”, and I said, “Would you please speak up to the police about this?” and she hung up on me. And that’s where it was left and I did not pursue her because I knew she was as elderly as well and I respected that, whereas I could have, I could have gone the family … I could have, but I didn’t. I just left it.’
Caroline told the Commissioner that throughout her life she’d suffered depression and had never had a sense of feeling safe. ‘See, I was a child and that was my home and I was abused for two and a half years in my own home. Now, I wasn't abused out in a hall, you know, which probably is very bad anyway, but there's the solace of my home and I knew every week what was going to happen and I would be, "Not again, not again", and I wouldn't let anyone know. But the whole week I would be in a mess thinking and knowing what was going to happen. But I would be prepared with my clothes. It still didn't protect me. Nothing protected me, from this “wonderful, wonderful upstanding pillar of society”. I just wanted to say, “That’s my own home”.’