Charlene's story

After five months at the mental health clinic, Charlene told her psychiatrist about the sexual abuse.

Her first admission to a mental health facility had been a decade before, when she was in her 20s. She’d been in and out ever since. For the decade before that, Charlene struggled with eating disorders and depression.

In all this time, over 20 years, she didn’t tell anyone what Brett Davison had done to her.

Davison was Charlene’s teacher for Grades 1 and 2, when she attended a state primary school just out of Brisbane. It was the early 1980s, and Charlene was the victim of bullying by her peers.

Davison frightened her, as he was physically and verbally abusive. ‘He was a horrible man, he’d throw kids over his knee and belt them, scream.’

The first year Davison taught Charlene, he took the class to the pool for swimming lessons. Charlene had put her bathers on backwards, so he accompanied her back to the toilets to help her fix them.

While they were alone in the changing room, Davison molested Charlene. He told her not to tell anyone, and being scared of him, she didn’t.

Charlene hated going to school and being made to play sport. ‘I was always trying to get out of it, crying. ... And the teachers would get cross at me, but Mum said it all makes sense now. She wanted to try and make schools aware, that sometimes people are scared of doing it, that there’s a reason behind it, not just because they are being impossible.’

After a few years, Charlene moved to another school. The male teachers there acted and spoke to the female students in sexually inappropriate ways.

‘One teacher there, he used to drop his pen on the floor, and when you’d pick it up he’d look up your dress. And another one, he was really disgusting, he’d tell everybody to go home and touch themselves ... That’s not appropriate.’

In her teens, when she was training intensely, Charlene presented with symptoms of an eating disorder. This developed into anorexia, which persisted for some years. She then became morbidly obese in her early 20s. ‘When I can’t cope with things, I think ... I’m a big fat cow, if I wasn’t a big fat cow I’d be all right.’

Since then, Charlene has been admitted to hospital for self-harm, has overdosed, and has also undergone electroconvulsive therapy. Although she is on medication, she still struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. Her mother provides support, as does her counsellor, and she remains under the treatment of a psychiatrist.

People have taken advantage of Charlene financially, and she has trouble trusting anyone. Because of this she has never had any real friends, or an intimate partner. She is also very cautious and anxious when there are children around.

After she disclosed the abuse, Charlene and her mother went to the school. They enquired as to whether Davison was still teaching, and were told that he had left.

Charlene is considering whether to make a report to police about the abuse. She is aware this process may be challenging for her, and is seeking the advice and support of her psychiatrist before doing so.

When Charlene spoke to the Royal Commission, she recommended changes to the way mental health is treated. These included having psychiatric facilities introduce animals as a form of therapy and comfort, and making necessary care easier to access by removing restrictions on mental health care plans.

Charlene’s mental health has impacted on her capacity to work, and she lost a full-time job she loved because of her frequent hospital admissions. She currently lives on the disability support pension.

Living with the impacts of the abuse, particularly her mental illness, is hard. ‘People can’t see it, [unlike] a broken leg or something. And you try and put on a happy face, because I don’t tell people about what’s happened.’

Playing, teaching and listening to classical music have been a big part of Charlene’s life, and provided a lot of comfort and relaxation. As well as her music, Charlene adores her pets, and treats them like children. ‘Yeah, my cats love me.’

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