Erika joined the St John Ambulance Service as an 11-year-old in the 1990s because her friends were already members and she liked the idea of helping others. A few years later, Erika was a cadet corporal, training to become cadet leader, when she went to the Johnson family home to practise the following week’s drill. Mrs Johnson was a cadet leader and her son, Peter, was 16 and cadet sergeant.
Erika told the Commissioner that she’d previously felt uncomfortable with Peter’s behaviour. She’d seen him touching girls and had been cornered alone several times herself by him. She thought going to the house would be safe because Peter’s mother and brother would be there, but after a few hours Mrs Johnson said she was leaving to go to the shops. ‘Peter spoke with his brother and then his brother left as well.’
Erika said she was preparing to leave when Peter grabbed her, dragged her into his room and raped her. ‘It was over I don’t even know how long, the time frame during the day.’
Eventually running away, Erika went to her grandmother’s but couldn’t disclose that she’d been assaulted. She stayed that night at a friend’s house and when she told her friend’s mother what had happened, her reply was, ‘These things happen sometimes’. Erika felt her own mother was ‘too unstable’ to confide in about the assault.
Several years later, Erika was attending a religious group and reflecting on the abuse when she decided to make a report to South Australia Police and the St John Ambulance Service.
Police officers questioned her at length but told her that they wouldn’t be able to proceed with charges because it would be her word against Peter’s. ‘They said I had to sign a form saying I wouldn’t be proceeding with anything, so I signed a form.’
The Ambulance Service replied to Erika with a letter outlining restrictions now imposed on Peter in response to her report. These included that Peter would no longer be permitted to work with children and that he’d be more closely supervised. Subsequent to the letter, Erika knew that that Peter continued in his role with the Ambulance Service. ‘I got that letter outlining what he can and can’t do and it was never monitored because his mother was the cadet leader’, Erika said. ‘He was on duty alone with cadets. He was doing training alone with cadets. None of it was followed up. None of it was monitored at all.’
Following the assault, Erika left the service. She became unwell through her teenage years with a variety of illnesses and as an adult, was prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication. As an effect of the abuse, she became distressed in confined spaces and large crowds and had difficulty with sexual intimacy.
Erika said she’d made conscious decisions to be with and spend her life with people who were ‘stable’. She said she still worried about children volunteering and being involved in organisations like the St John Ambulance. ‘Even years down the track he could still possibly be doing it to other people and no one would know.’
She told the Commissioner that she hoped police processes had changed and reporting a sexual assault would receive a different response these days. ‘I look back now and the information that I got given when I reported it probably wasn’t accurate, it’s probably not the whole, given the options, so stopping that sort of stuff would be good.’