Chanelle grew up in 1980s Tasmania in ‘a very happy family’. She was a ‘precocious’ child who was ‘very intelligent, and found it difficult to talk to other kids’. Her early years at the local state primary school were alright ‘but later on I noticed that I was drifting a bit away from other kids, and probably was seeking out adults to talk to a lot more’.
Tom Elliot was an older man employed at the school as ‘a gardener and handyman. And he worked full-time at the school so [was] very much part of the school community’. The children would visit him in his shed on the grounds during lunchtime and he would give them chocolate milk.
Chanelle remembers having ‘nothing much to do during the lunch hour, especially because I was awkward around other kids I suppose’. She felt like Elliot was a special friend, and would frequently spend time with him in the shed. ‘Quite often I was by myself in there.’
Elliot would embrace her ‘for a long period of time, and sort of nuzzling me and that sort of thing, which I didn’t really think much of at the time’. He sat her on his knee, and would chat with her ‘when I couldn’t find anyone else to have conversations with’.
Chanelle now knows that another female student had made a complaint about Elliot a few years earlier. ‘Her mother had gone down to the school, and said that Tom Elliot had nuzzled into her [the student], and nibbled on her ear ... The school knew about this ... This must have been well before I was in Year 5. And nothing happened.’
‘There was a point when I was in Year 6 that we were told by a teacher, I can’t remember exactly who, it may have been our grade teacher, but there was a blanket rule to be applied to the school that no children were allowed to go and visit Tom Elliot during the recess and lunch hour. So the onus was on us.’
The students chose to defy these instructions. ‘We saw that as a challenge ‘cause we were defiant Year 5 and 6 students. And we went in to visit him anyway, because we weren’t going to be told what to do ... I remember one of the girls purposely sat on his lap and said “Oh they think you’re a paedophile”. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. And she said “but we don’t think that”. And I guess it was later that I realised what that meant.’
There is one incident which Chanelle only has a ‘foggy’ recollection of, where she was molested by someone she believes to have been Elliot – ‘I can’t be sure it was him, but I’m almost 100% sure it was’.
‘I think when I was in Grade 6, we had a school fete and there was a “house of horrors” and for some reason the school allowed him to have it in his utility room [shed]. And so he helped us set it all up ... And so it was pitch black dark in there and as I was going through the “house of horrors” someone grabbed me between the legs. And I screamed, but everyone was screaming so there wasn’t much I could do ... And I blamed it on one of the bigger kids in the class.’
The boy she accused ‘swore black and blue that it wasn’t him’. The girl who had previously made the comment to Elliot about being a paedophile then said ‘No, it would have been Mr Elliot because something like that happened to me’. Chanelle defended Mr Elliot though as ‘I thought he was my special friend’.
Nothing further was said about the incident. ‘The school didn’t do anything about it. I told a teacher.’ The teacher was also present when the girl stated that Mr Elliot had done the same thing to her. But ‘nothing happened’.
In the holidays immediately after Chanelle finished Year 6 she took her dog for a walk on the school grounds.
‘The school is quite isolated, you can’t see the grounds from the outside, and so I felt a bit nervous walking through the school then ... And I saw him [Elliot]. For some reason I kind of felt really nervous seeing him, and I felt really frightened.
‘So I doubled back, and he sort of crossed paths with me on the other side of the school. And he said to me “people have been telling me ... since you left school you’ve turned into a snob, and someone who wouldn’t come and sit with me anymore”. And I said “Oh that’s not true”. I wanted to be polite.’
Elliot then asked her in to the shed but made her leave her dog outside.
‘I felt very nervous but I also felt like I wanted to be polite ... He did that thing with me again where he embraced me, and then he had an erect penis – which I now know that’s what it was – he started to rub it on me. And then I stayed in the embrace for a while, I didn’t really know what to do. And then I said I had to go out and check on my dog. And he again said that I was a snob ... I left, and he said “Oh come back and sit with me another time” ...
‘I felt like I was being really rude, and he called out after me and said something like “Oh no you won’t”. And that was the last I think I saw of him.’
The grooming and sexual abuse by Elliot left Chanelle ‘frightened all the time, and I didn’t want to be left on my own at all at home, even I was 16 or something like that if my parents left me on my own at home I would have panic attacks and I would crouch down behind the couch’. This fear continued into her 20s, and she would barricade herself inside the house if there alone.
Chanelle disclosed the abuse to her parents in Year 8 ‘because another older man had been hugging me and trying to say things to me about how he thought I was beautiful’. When her parents talked to her about her reaction to this man she ‘broke down’ and told them ‘about Mr Elliot and about what had happened. To my knowledge they never said anything to the school, and I think he was still there’. She has not discussed it with them since, but has mentioned it to her sister and partner. ‘I mostly thought that what happened to me, no one would think it was important, that no one would think it matters.’
The abuse caused Chanelle to be fearful of men. ‘I had no relationships with men until I was 29 ... I fear mostly for my children now.’ Chanelle was prompted to contact the Royal Commission after a conversation with a neighbour. Looking online she saw stories of survivors of child sexual abuse.
‘They didn’t sound dissimilar to mine. So I thought, you know ... If that’s not dissimilar to my experience, people might not think that my experience was nothing to worry about ...
‘I have been very worried about telling people about my experience because I think I feel like, and I always felt after the incident, that because it wasn’t penetration it didn’t count.
‘And when I saw that some of the children had had similar experiences to me and that they’d been affected in a similar way to me, I thought that I should tell someone about it. And that my feelings probably couldn’t be dismissed.’