‘I wish he would go to hell. The same place he’s put me in.’
Gretchen met Bob Langston in the early 1970s, when he taught her at a state high school in suburban Melbourne.
The relationship between students and staff was often unconventional and inappropriate. Gretchen would ‘go to pubs on Friday with all the teachers’, although she was underage ‘and they knew it’. Langston would hold parties at his house, which she and the teachers would attend.
Sometimes students would even go to his place without him. ‘He would let us access the house if he wasn’t there ... So you’d go there and have a couple of drinks, and then he’d turn up.’
It is still very hard for Gretchen to talk about the sexual abuse Langston subjected her to from the age of 15. The first time he had sex with her was after a concert they had attended, along with another student and her ‘boyfriend’ who was also a teacher at the school. ‘I lost my virginity and didn’t know; Mum had never taught us much.’
At the time Gretchen believed she was in a consensual relationship with Langston, although she remembers he treated her aggressively when they had sex.
Her schooling was affected by her feelings about the man she now considers ‘an absolute prick’. ‘I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t do anything – I was just besotted.’
Langston didn’t ever use a condom when he had sex with Gretchen, leading to a pregnancy scare. While she wasn’t pregnant, she learned that she contracted an infection from him.
Eventually when a new principal arrived, Gretchen was asked to leave the school and Langston was given another placement. ‘I think it was something to do with what happened [the abuse]. And he was just sent off to [another local school], where apparently further abuse happened.’
Langston continued to abuse Gretchen ‘spontaneously’ after she left the school, if they happened to run into each other.
Gretchen told the Commissioner that the abuse ‘certainly stuffed up my life’. She travelled for a while as a young adult, then started using heroin, and was homeless for some time. ‘I don’t trust anyone ... I didn’t ever achieve. At the moment I can’t do anything.’
Recently she disclosed the abuse to her psychiatrist, though they haven’t ‘delved into it’ in any detail, ‘and he’s treating me for post-traumatic stress’.
Gretchen had assumed that she was the only person Langston had abused, but has since learned that he had been molesting many other female students, including several at the same time as her. She believes he eventually married one of the girls from her class.
In later years she learnt that many people were aware of what was happening to her at the time (‘apparently the world knew’), but nobody at the school ever asked her directly.
She remembers her father once asking about Langston when she was 17 – ‘I hear that you’re seeing this bloke, this teacher bloke’ – but she ‘flat-out denied it’. Somehow her mother found out about it a few years ago too, and her siblings are aware and supportive.
Gretchen has heard that Langston is still working in the education system and she has now reported him to police. She regrets this did not happen sooner.
‘I wish this all would have happened 30 years ago. He’s probably had 30 years of doing it to other people.’