‘You feel [guilty] because you kept sending them there. I think it’s that disbelief, how could it be happening in a school with everyone around? It plays with your mind.’
Elana is a mother of four children, living in a small town in Queensland. She came to the Royal Commission on behalf of her youngest daughter, Georgia. As a child, Georgia was bright and positive and she ‘loved school’. Elana was happy with her daughter’s academic performance and was sure she would continue to grow when she transferred Georgia to a state school in the late 2000s.
Georgia was in Grade 4 when she had her first male teacher, Mr Novella. At first, Elana was impressed with his teaching methods and noticed that Georgia was excelling in class. It wasn’t long before things started to change. Georgia began to cry in the mornings and would refuse to attend school. She also spent a significant time away from class in the sick bay. Elana was concerned with Georgia’s behaviour, but no one at school raised further concern, so she assumed it had been resolved.
It wasn’t until half way through the school year that Elana received correspondence from Novella. He suggested that Georgia should see the school’s guidance counsellor as her behaviour in class had been ‘escalating’. This alarmed Elana and so she contacted the counsellor and set up two appointments. Elana confronted Novella as she was confused about why he didn’t consult her sooner about Georgia. He tried to ‘shift the blame’ to ‘family problems’ in the meeting, which upset Elana.
After the meetings with the counsellor, nine-year-old Georgia became inconsolable. She wouldn’t let go of Elana when she was dropped off at school.
Georgia said she didn’t want to be in Novella’s class anymore, but couldn’t state why. Elana recalls Georgia saying on several occasions that she hated her body and that she wanted to kill herself. She didn’t like being alone and would often follow Elana around the house.
‘She stuck with me like glue. If I was in the shower she’d jump in the shower. I couldn’t get away from her. I’d come home and she’d locked all the doors, if I was on the computer she’d sit on the floor next to me.’
Taking matters into her own hands, Elana requested the school’s principal remove Georgia from Novella’s class but was told it was ‘against school policy’. She also organised for the school’s principal to receive Georgia in the morning before taking her to class. Georgia was eventually moved out of Novella’s class because he hit her with a wooden ruler. Georgia never saw him again.
Elana noticed a significant change in Georgia’s health. When Elana took her to the doctors, Georgia was diagnosed with a disease which was uncommon for a nine-year-old. Georgia still suffers from this today.
In the late 2000s, Elana removed Georgia from the state school. She told her mother of an incident involving the principal calling her a ‘little slut’. A report was made to the Department of Child Safety as well as the Queensland police, but upon interview Georgia did not make a substantial claim. As a consequence, no further action could be taken.
The following years were extremely tough on Elana. She and her husband’s intimacy was affected due to Georgia sleeping in their bed. Georgia has been expelled from one school and has been refused entry to several schools because of her lack of attendance.
Elana found Georgia a psychologist. When she was 14 years old, Georgia told her psychologist that she was sexually abused by Novella, and this was referred to the police.
In the mid-2010s, Elana provided a statement to the police and Georgia was interviewed. Georgia found the police ‘daunting’ and the questions were relentless. They still have not been updated on the conclusion of this investigation. Elana is under the impression that the police may need full disclosure from Georgia.
Elana does not know the details of Novella’s sexual abuse but believes that Novella touched Georgia’s genitals over her underwear several times on the school grounds. She also thinks that he ‘threatened’ Georgia by saying he would hurt her mother if she disclosed the details of the abuse.
Georgia suffers from anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Elana said that Georgia has ‘daily, self-protective rituals’ to keep her ‘safe’. She doesn’t like to sleepover at friends’ homes and she has been re-introduced to sleeping on her own. Georgia sees a psychologist and a paediatrician regularly. She also has a part time job and is not interested in finishing her education.
Elana is still very disappointed by the school’s lack of thorough response to her daughter’s case and said she felt ‘isolated and unsupported’. She recommends that schools should be fitted with security cameras in classrooms and toilets for extra protection. At this stage, Elana is focusing on Georgia’s wellbeing and intends to take civil action when Georgia is ready.