In the 1990s, Geoff’s daughter, Erin, told him that her teacher, Mr Edwards, had touched her on the bottom. Geoff immediately reported the incident to the primary school’s deputy principal, who recommended Geoff provide a written complaint so the school could follow it up.
The deputy principal said they’d ‘had concerns’ about Edwards for a number of years, but had never been able to take any action ‘because no one had put it in writing’.
Geoff accompanied 11-year-old Erin to make a report to Victoria Police. He was put in touch with a detective investigating a complaint from a woman who said she had been sexually abused by Edwards as a child.
Geoff told the Commissioner that as the police investigation grew, more women came forward with allegations. In the 2000s, Edwards was charged with dozens of sex offences that had occurred over a 25-year period. He spent time in jail before dying several years later.
At the time that Geoff first reported the abuse, he and his family were living in a community in Victoria that was small and close-knit. They’d recently moved there for Geoff’s work and were enjoying it. However, they weren’t prepared for the town’s response after the abuse had been reported. After initially being helpful, school staff shunned Geoff. Erin became subject to taunts by students and was badly treated by other teachers. The Education Department proposed that Edwards continue to teach and Erin move to another school. Geoff said it seemed they were in denial.
When Geoff’s wife walked down the street, people crossed the road to avoid her. One day a woman came into Geoff’s office and demanded to know why he was pursuing Edwards. He tried to explain to her that touching was part of something larger and could end up badly. He’d met some of the people who’d been abused by Edwards and found it ‘horrific’ to see how they’d been affected.
While the townspeople remained firmly on the side of Edwards, Geoff and the family made the decision to leave even though he loved his job.
By contrast, the response from police was ‘excellent’, and they ‘were a breath of fresh air’.
Whereas no one from the school had contacted the family, the police suggested counselling for Erin. The detective told them he couldn’t understand why the Education Department had knowingly moved this teacher around, considering the ‘trail’ he’d left.
The pattern of Edwards being moved between schools perplexed Geoff, and he wrote several letters to the Education Department outlining his concerns and seeking information, but just got ‘bland letters’ back.
The first meeting with Education Department staff was in the early 2000s, and it ‘was just about the money’.
Geoff had wanted to talk to someone about the impact on the child and the family, but ‘all the humanity had been taken out’.
A settlement of $18,000 was agreed to though Geoff thought the amount too small. He said by then they were all exhausted.
Geoff said Erin was now pursuing a successful career. He was glad that she’d told him as soon as Edwards abused her. He kept thinking about the school saying they ‘couldn’t do anything unless the parents put it in writing’. He had doubts about whether that was true.