In the 2000s Mr Novella became Georgia’s class teacher at her Queensland state school when she was nine. He had ‘the most evil grin that’s still stuck in my head’, and soon singled Georgia out for particularly cruel treatment – ripping up her books, breaking her pencils, and smacking her with a big ruler in front of the other kids. ‘I don’t know why. I just thought I was a bad kid.’
Novella also held Georgia back from certain classes, saying she was not good enough to attend them, on multiple occasions. While they were alone he sexually abused her.
‘I didn’t understand it at first. And then I thought I was being punished, by the way he was talking to me, and the way he was treating me, I thought I did something wrong all the time. So I thought it was a way of punishing.’ His demeanour during this abuse ‘was really rude, really nasty’ and threatening.
‘The first day [of the abuse] when we were walking back up to class, I remember just saying to him that I was going to tell my mum. And he stopped for a minute, and then he turned around, and he came straight up to my face and he said, “If you ever tell your mum anything, I’ll come after her”. And then he kept walking.’
Georgia did not want to keep going to school. She asked her mother if she could change to a different class, but did not say anything about the emotional, physical or sexual abuse by Novella. Her mother organised a meeting with the school principal, Mr Dickson, about what was going on at the school.
Dickson decided to interview Georgia alone in a dark room with the blinds pulled down. He made her sit on a chair and give him details of everything that had happened.
Georgia told him about Novella hitting her with the rule, and disclosed the sexual abuse. ‘He called me a slut and he walked out of the room and shut the door. And he left me there … He made me feel like a bad person’.
Dickson must have reported the abuse, as Georgia was visited by police at the family home. The policewoman who interviewed her did not really build any rapport before they began. ‘She was lovely ... But I didn’t give them any detail whatsoever. I was still scared, still didn’t really quite understand it either ... A kid at nine years old isn’t going to say anything if they don’t feel comfortable.’
After discussion between Georgia’s mother and Dickson, Georgia was moved out of Novella’s class. At this point the sexual abuse ceased. She was moved again several times, which was very disruptive. Eventually she changed schools. Later on her family heard that Novella had left the school, and was looking to relocate overseas.
At her new school, Georgia explained to the principal that she had ‘had something happen when I was younger, with a male teacher.’ The principal responded well. ‘She was really supportive. Made sure I had lady teachers ... I didn’t really want a male teacher after that.’
Around a year before she met with the Royal Commission, Georgia gave a further and full police statement. ‘I was older. I was ready. And you know, I wanted to help other kids. Like, no kid wants to go through that at all.’
This second police contact was not a good experience, with the officer not even speaking to her before conducting a four-hour interview.
‘The lady I had was very blunt. She just took me in a room. It was dark, she just sat down, explained the rules to me ... When I was talking to her I was bawling my eyes out, she kind of just looked at me. And then after I wiped my eyes she said, "Oh, are you done now?", like she had no sympathy whatsoever.’
The investigation is ongoing with a new officer, who is currently reviewing her recent interview. It is unclear whether the Queensland Department of Education and Training was ever informed.
Georgia spoke to the Commissioner about the impacts of the abuse, both on her and her family. ‘It makes me feel sick to be honest, how you could do that to someone so little, that doesn’t understand? It makes me really angry as well. It’s disgusting.’
For many years after the abuse, Georgia slept in the bed with her parents, and did not ever want to be separated from her mother. She often refused to go to school and was bullied a lot when she did go. This caused the family a lot of stress and anxiety.
Georgia receives counselling through an organisation for survivors of child sexual assault. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘I’ve had my ups and downs. I have gone through a bit of depression, and a lot of anxiety. That’s why I’m with the counsellor now.’
Counselling has been really hard, and some sessions wipe her out so much she cannot go to college for a few days afterwards. ‘Some days it’s like, I just don’t have any energy.’
Georgia made a number of recommendations about how this kind of abuse could be both prevented and better managed, including ‘making it known to a young child about what is right for a teacher – where’s right for them to touch you, and what’s acceptable and appropriate ... Kids probably don’t understand. Like I didn’t.’