Genevieve told the Commissioner that for most of her life she downplayed the significance of the abuse she experienced, and it’s only recently that she’s come to view it in a different light.
In the mid-1980s Genevieve attended a state primary school in New South Wales. When she was about eight or nine years old she found herself receiving special attention from the principal, Mr Torrey.
‘He would say he’s interested in choir and doing opera, so he’d get all the kids to stand in a circle and we’d all be singing something one by one … and he’d tap you on the shoulder and he’d say, “You can sing”, and you were selected. So of course if you’re eight or nine you think, “Oh wow, the principal has just chosen me because I can sing. Isn’t that special?”.’
After that, Torrey would sit Genevieve on his knee during choir practice, often in front of all the other students and teachers. He also began to call her out of class, inventing some pretence for his needing her to come down to his office.
‘They’d be spurious jobs like “clean out the bottom drawer of his cupboard”. I’d go there – once or twice it was by myself and other times with another girl. He’d shut the door and he’d sit there and watch us clean out the cupboard … and then afterwards he’d say, “You need to come and sit on my knee”. So he would rub his hands up and down our thighs, that kind of thing.’
On one occasion, when Genevieve was preparing for a performance, the abuse escalated to a more invasive form of touching.
‘He said “Oh, I better come and check your costume”, and I was a fairy or something … and he said, “Oh, I better tuck your shirt in”. And he tucked my T-shirt in and put his hand right down in my knickers.’
Genevieve was confused and intimidated by the experience. She didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t feel like she could talk to anyone about it.
‘At the time I flinched. I knew that was wrong but I don’t think at that age you can really process … The problem was, he was the principal, he was in such a position of power. He’s pretty much the boss. So you don’t really have the confidence to question, even if you know instinctively at some level it’s wrong.’
The problem was compounded by the fact that other adults seemed to know or suspect that something was going on, but did nothing about it. So in Genevieve’s eyes they were ‘endorsing his behaviour’.
Looking back, she is sure that other kids were being abused too, some of them suffering more grossly physical attacks than she did.
Torrey left the school when Genevieve was in Grade 6, and that brought an end to the abuse. She went on to succeed at high school and university and then built a successful professional career. Only in hindsight did she realise the effect the abuse had had on her life.
‘I had body-space issues, and I didn’t have a lot of boyfriends in high school, and I had a bit of a reputation as an ice queen … I had been shocked by what happened and I never really dealt with it and I certainly – he was never brought to justice in any way, so it was just kind of buried.’
Then a few years ago she read a newspaper article which told the story of nine people who had also been victims of Torrey.
‘I was genuinely shocked that it had actually come to light. I thought it was just one of those things that would never, ever see the light of day. I thought that story would never be told. It had quite an impact on me when I read it, and I emailed the journalist and I said just thank you for writing that article … I just felt, “I can’t believe it”. I just felt lighter.’
The article changed Genevieve’s perspective on the abuse. She said that once she considered Torrey’s behaviour in a wider context, including the harm he did to other children as well as her, she came to a ‘zero tolerance’ view of all forms of abuse.
‘Obviously in here you hear the most horrific cases, the truly horrific cases of child sexual abuse, so I first thought that it wasn’t really like that for me because it was only very mild ... you think, “Oh well, that probably doesn’t count”. But I think absolutely it does count.’