Dana was born to teenage parents who split up when she was three. After that Dana lived in foster care for a while before moving in with her mother and stepfather, Barry.
Dana said that her mother was ‘always making stupid, erratic choices’ and Barry was one of them. He was a frightening, violent man who bashed both Dana and her mother.
As a result of this chaotic home life, Dana grew into an outwardly ‘meek’ girl with a secret but strong faith in her own opinions. This second quality came in handy one day in her final year of primary school when she encountered the school handyman, Vince Kennedy.
It was the 1970s and Dana was about 11. The school was a public school, located in Sydney. Dana had been asked to fetch a piece of equipment from Kennedy’s office. When she arrived he was sitting at his desk, reading a pornographic magazine.
Kennedy told Dana to come in and close the door. He then told her to wait. He sat there, reading his magazine for several minutes, then came up behind Dana, and started kissing and groping her. Dana ‘froze’. After some time Kennedy told her to leave and come back later for the equipment.
Dana was scared but she didn’t let her feelings get the better of her.
‘Instead of going away and coming back, I went straight to my friend, the prefect, and told her what just happened. And then she went to a teacher … I was taken to a female teacher and then the teacher took me to the principal. And I had to tell the principal everything that happened with her there.’
This was the high point of the school’s response. From then on it was one failure after another. The principal decided that he wanted to hear Dana’s story again – but this time she had to tell it to him alone. ‘I didn’t like that. I think it’s very important that a little 11-year-old girl shouldn’t be talking to another man about a man that’s touched her, alone. That was just freaky. Uncomfortable.’
Over the next three weeks the school ran an investigation during which several more girls came forward with complaints against Kennedy. But Kennedy wasn’t stood down. Dana saw him at school every day. ‘I was petrified because I’d see him and I thought “He’s gonna get me”.’
As a ‘preventative measure’ the school ruled that only boys were allowed to visit Kennedy’s office. Then they found out that he’d abused a boy as well. ‘So then they started sending people in pairs to his room. Why they would continue to send any students at all, I’ve got no fricken idea.’
Eventually Dana was called into the principal’s office and told that Kennedy had been ‘transferred’ to a job where he wouldn’t have any interaction with children. That was the end of the matter.
‘I didn’t even think of police being involved. I didn’t think of counselling. As an adult now I go, "Oh my god, the police should have been called, involved". I should have been counselled, like how I felt about it all, because I was petrified and ashamed at the same time. Not ashamed of my being there – I have a high opinion of myself and I’m happy that I spoke out, because otherwise it would have been ongoing – but the shame of people knowing.’
Shame and fear followed Dana into her teenage years. To cope she became ‘outrageous’ and ‘flamboyant … averting my real feelings by putting on a show … that’s how I deal with uncomfortable circumstances of being real’.
In her 20s and early 30s Dana suffered one tragedy after another – more sexual assaults, broken relationships, family grief – and so one day, on an impulse, she tried to take her own life.
‘I was so hurt and so angry … It wasn’t even a thought. I wasn’t even planning it. It was anger and, “Goodbye, that’s it, I’ve had enough”.’ She was found and revived. After that, ‘I didn’t tell anyone for two years that I was still suicidal because I didn’t want to be found next time’.
Since then Dana has undertaken some counselling with a good therapist and has started to build her own business. She no longer feels suicidal. ‘It stabilised a year ago’, she said.
In her early 40s Dana tried to report one of the sexual assaults that she’d suffered as an adult. After a phone call to the police, she backed out because she ‘didn’t have the strength’. Recently, however, she has decided to re-explore her legal options, this time in relation to what Kennedy did – but her target would be the school, not Kennedy himself.
‘He would be long dead and buried, and the issue for me is not what he did … I do really realise that the school, they were the one place that had the power … to make me feel worthy. And they didn’t.’