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Elouise Kirsten's story

‘I found some dirty words written on this tree … Mr Falconer was the teacher on duty … [He] said, “What sort of words?”’

When Elouise told her teacher, he said, ‘Do you want to know that they mean?’ Elouise said nothing, but when Mr Falconer told her to come with him, she did, ‘because he was the teacher’.

Elouise attended a small school in regional New South Wales in the 1980s, and Mr Falconer was her Grade 3 teacher.

In the classroom Mr Falconer told Elouise, ‘Fuck means when two people make love … Cock means a man’s thing and cunt means a lady’s thing’.

The next day at lunch time, Mr Falconer kept Elouise back at lunchtime, and showed her a magazine. ‘In the magazine were nude men and women. He said something like, “These are the photos of what I was telling you about yesterday”.’

A few days later, while the other children were watching television in the library, Mr Falconer took Elouise back to the classroom, where he forced her to masturbate him. ‘After a while he said, “You can stop now”. I stopped and he pulled his pants back up and did his trousers up. Then I went back into the library.’

Mr Falconer warned Elouise, ‘Don’t tell Mum and Dad, because we will both get into trouble’.

The following week, Mr Falconer once again showed Elouise pornographic pictures. The magazine was in a folder, so he could hide it if someone came into the room.

Mr Falconer ‘set up a corner in the room … where you couldn’t be seen … He frequently had me alone in the classroom with a locked door’. The abuse continued all year, and as well as forcing her to masturbate him, Mr Falconer began to touch Elouise on the genital area.

At the end of the year, Mr Falconer told Elouise, ‘I’ve got two report cards here. One is a good one and one is a bad one. If you rub my cock, I’ll send you the good one, but if you don’t, I’ll send you the bad one’. Elouise chose the ‘good one’.

When Elouise began Grade 4 with a different teacher, Mr Falconer still continued to abuse her. When questioned on one occasion by another teacher, he told her, ‘Oh, it’s just a schoolwork matter’. Elouise told the Commissioner, ‘I remember looking at her like, “No”, [but] she let me go, and knew that I was in there alone with a teacher’.

Elouise doesn’t understand ‘how this could have gone on so frequently for so long without another staff member being even suspicious, or even raising that it’s something that he probably should not have been doing’.

Mr Falconer was transferred out of the school at the end of the first term when Elouise was in Grade 4. Every other teacher at the school was transferred elsewhere at the end of that year. No one has ever said why any of these transfers occurred.

Elouise was on a sleepover with a friend, when, as a joke, her friend’s older brother exposed himself to the two girls. When the friend’s mother chastised him, Elouise told the woman that her teacher had done the same thing to her once, but didn’t reveal all the abuse. The woman told her she should tell her parents.

Her parents called the police and Mr Falconer was charged. He pleaded guilty and received a short period of weekend detention.

‘I do remember being angry. I think my reaction was, “Is that jail? Is that actually jail? Did he go to jail” and it was explained to me, “Oh, he just goes to jail on the weekend”.’ Elouise and her parents were told that the Department of Public Prosecutions was not happy with the sentence either.

Elouise and her parents were also very disappointed with the lack of response from the Department of Education.

‘The Department of Education never contacted my parents. They were never interviewed. I was never interviewed. We did a FOI request to the Department of Education ... All that we got back was a written letter from my dad … telling them of the abuse. They never replied … There appears to be no investigation whatsoever.’ Elouise is now suing the Department of Education.

Elouise had one session of counselling after the court case, but it didn’t go well. As an adult, she has resumed counselling and is finding it helpful. ‘I’ve had issues with relationships, alcohol, a few different matters.’ It took a year of counselling before Elouise began to make any progress.

‘I probably should have done it years ago, but … it was like, “Okay, it’s been dealt with. It’s happened. Let’s forget about it” … It sort of got locked away … in a box in my head, and shut down as a way, I suppose, of resilience and protecting myself.’

Although alcohol has been an issue, and one that caused the breakdown of her last relationship, Elouise has ‘managed to hold down employment, and I’ve never got myself in trouble with the law or anything … but I’ve definitely used alcohol in the past as a medication kind of thing’.

Elouise ‘can’t recall a time of ever being physically intimate with a partner when I haven’t been under the influence of alcohol’, and she has ‘suffered from depression, God, my whole life, which has been tough. It’s hard. People describe you as high functioning and yeah, there’s a level of resilience that you build up, but behind closed doors it can be quite tough and isolating and lonely.’

Elouise was prompted to come forward to the Royal Commission after she saw a survivor of abuse speaking on television.

‘Just the look on his face, it was like looking in a mirror. It was like, “Oh my God, I am not the only one and this is not me wondering. This is a real thing. These are real issues that I’ve got”, and it felt good. For the first time it felt like I wasn’t alone.’

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