‘I loved to play on the monkey bars, I especially loved the times I could have them all to myself. I would spend hours there playing on my own. It was one such weekend when the rain couldn’t keep me away that I was at school playing on the monkey bars.’
Elke and her family lived close to the state primary school she attended in regional Victoria. From as far back as she could remember, she disliked being at home because her parents were neglectful and sometimes violent. She was sexually abused by her father and a sibling. It was a toxic home.
School was an escape. Elke it so much that she would go to school and play on her own on weekends. In the 1980s when Elke was nine, she found herself playing on the monkey bars in the rain.
Elke remembers the metal being wet, she felt her grip slipping. She fell off and landed in a puddle on the ground, soaking her clothes right through. Elke was surprised that Gordon Green, the school’s cleaner, was there. She welcomed his assistance because he was always around the school. Everyone liked Green.
‘He told me I should come with him to the sick bay inside the school to see if there was a change of clothes that would fit me. Gordon told me he didn’t want me to go home wearing my wet and dirty clothing.’
Green firmly grabbed Elke’s hand and took her inside the school’s office. She remembers feeling uncomfortable because Green’s grip was too tight. Elke was dragged through classrooms into the sick bay where she saw a bed. She was told to sit on the edge of the bed and take off her clothes.
Elke left her underwear on and watched Green search through the lost and found box. He turned around and then told Elke to remove her underwear as well. She remembers feeling sick with fear, but she did as she was told and Green abused her.
‘I remember how far away I seemed to be from my body.’
The abuse seemed to go on forever. Elke can still recall how painful it felt. She dissociated and has no recollection of leaving the sick bay or the school yard. Elke never told anyone what happened that day, she thought her mother would be furious at her for getting her clothes dirty.
After the abuse ceased, Elke went out of her way to avoid Green at school. He was known to go into the toilets while other students were in there, always holding a cleaning product. She never went to the toilets if she knew Green was in there. Elke felt like she was the only one who felt uneasy about Green.
‘There were times where I felt his gaze on me and I would be triggered back to those horrible memories in the sick bay.’
Elke retreated into herself and always hid her face to avoid contact with others. She felt pain and nausea constantly, and found it difficult to concentrate in class. It was overwhelming to know that school was no longer a safe place for her.
When Elke left primary school, she was relieved that she would never have to see Green again. However, the impact of the abuse created complications that she would later have to deal with.
Throughout her teens and adulthood, Elke found it difficult to trust others, especially men. She has struggled with intimacy in her relationships and marriage, but is thankful that her husband has been supportive. ‘He provided a voice for the nine-year-old that didn’t have one’, Elke said.
Elke described herself as an overprotective mother. It took her several years to disclose the abuse to her children and husband. The disclosure has helped the family members become more connected with each other.
She has difficulty sleeping and concentrating at work. She sees a counsellor regularly, and is thankful that they have a great relationship.
She saw an article about the schools that the Royal Commission was investigating, and she was shocked that her school was listed. She was upset to find out that Green had died many years ago and was overwhelmed by memories that came flooding back. She said she couldn’t leave the house at times.
‘I knew I had been abused but I never thought there would be others that were abused at the same school. I always felt alone, that I was the only one.’