‘It's like, why do I have to make the fight all the time? Why am I the one that keeps the ball rolling when it should never have even happened? It should not be like this.’
Clarice was born deaf and began attending a specialist school in the late 1980s. The school hired taxis to assist with transporting the deaf children. When Clarice was 10 years old her regular taxi driver was a man called Nick. Nick would collect Clarice and two other young students and transport them to school in the mornings, returning them to their homes in the afternoons.
Clarice was always the last one dropped off by Nick and it was then that he sexually abused her. ‘The taxi driver would regularly touch my breast on the T-shirt’, Clarice told the Commissioner. ‘And on a few occasions he would touch me under my T-shirt. Some days he would grab my hand and put it on his private part while he was driving, but I would always pull my hand back.’
Nick tried to tongue kiss her. Nick would also punch Clarice hard on the arm. As she lifted her hands to shield her arm Nick would grope her vagina. He did this on many occasions and Clarice often had bruises on her arm.
Clarice did not disclose the abuse at the time because she thought it was normal. It didn’t feel ‘right’ to her, but she thought she had no alternative but to trust the adult and climb into the taxi each day.
‘I remember one particular afternoon I was being silly … I will never forget it because by then I could lip-read very well. I remember he said to me, “Stop what you are doing or I will fuck you”. I knew instantly that this was not right but I was so scared I immediately stopped being silly, sat quietly and looked out the window the whole time until I got home.’
The abuse continued for two years until Nick was assigned to transport different children.
‘The abuse has had a huge impact on my life and my health. I have developed anxiety and emotional problems … I have had a lot of sick leave and stress days off, and also time off to go to psychology appointments. I do not feel calm or rested every day, and have not felt this peace since before the sexual abuse occurred, when I was 10 years old.’
When Clarice was 17 she clearly understood that children should not be touched as Nick had touched her. She disclosed her abuse to her teacher at the college she attended at that time. The teacher and the college ignored mandatory reporting laws. ‘All she did was left it up to me to decide whether or not I wanted to report it to the police and left it to me whether or not I told my parents.’ Clarice felt isolated. She asked her teacher to help her approach the police.
Clarice found her interaction with the police distressing. ‘The police didn't follow their protocols. They didn't even provide me with a support person. I was under-age at the time. They used my teacher as an interpreter, which wasn't practice. I mean there's a conflict there in itself.’
No action was taken against the taxi driver who had abused Clarice. ‘They knew who he was at the time. They just said – this sentence still remains in my mind – they said to me, "It is your word against his", and I was like, "I'm 17". I was 17 … That was verbatim what they said to me, and they said, "There's nothing we can do about that. Move on".’
Clarice only got updates when she asked her teacher to contact the police on her behalf. Clarice felt that because of her deafness the police put her complaint in the ‘too hard’ basket. ‘It's like they didn't care. Where's my justice in that because of that incident? The taxi driver is still walking around as a free man. So how will that help me move on and, you know, move forward with this?’
Clarice has recently begun a push to have the case re-investigated. ‘I feel like I just keep hitting barriers … I feel like the justice is just beyond the other side of the wall and I'm on the other side and I don't know how to break through that wall to get the justice.’
‘The reason that I wanted to go through the Royal Commission is to just stand up and say, "Enough is enough", because I have a disability and there are future kids who will be born with disabilities … They need to be protected. Our story needs to be heard. And because of the police and the way they handled it, their behaviour, it just shows the system is not enough. It's not good. Where's our safety? Where's our trust and our faith? I want to change that.’