‘I suppose what affects me most is that these things happen quite regularly. Like there were lots of things that happened to me ... and I never spoke to anyone about it. It’s just that I feel how powerless young girls were, and possibly are still, to predatory men.’
Growing up in Perth during the 1950s, Gwenda frequently experienced sexual harassment in public. When she was 11 years old a man chased her, and men in local parks 'would try to grope you ... lots of men would flash their dicks at you'. It was something that was never discussed, so it seemed to her that you were just expected to put up with it.
Mr Walker was Gwenda’s teacher during her final year at her government primary school, and would look down her shirt during class. Sometimes he asked different children to help him get things out of the storeroom.
One time when Gwenda was assisting Mr Walker he pushed her up against a cupboard and stuck his hands inside her underpants. He knew her parents and warned that if she said anything to them, he would tell them she’d been misbehaving.
After this incident Gwenda helped the teacher take papers back to the class, and everything returned to ‘normal’. She never disclosed the abuse until she contacted the Royal Commission. At a recent school reunion she heard someone comment that ‘we all know about Mr Walker’, and wonders what might have happened to other children.
Gwenda married a physically and emotionally abusive man in her teens, and ‘I was very submissive. And I mean it’s not just me – it’s the politics of the time ... It was just normal. He was violent and abusive in lots of ways’.
She knows that her husband had a lot of trauma in his own childhood, and links his behaviour to this. ‘People are dealing with trauma from past generations. Everyone’s vulnerable in some way, to be an abuser, or the abused.’
As an adult Gwenda saw a male psychiatrist at a public hospital about sexual intimacy issues she was having, which she suspects were linked to the sexual abuse in her childhood. This doctor injected her with sedative drugs, and masturbated her as part of the ‘treatment’. At the time she did not recognise this as abuse, and ‘thought that I was getting correct treatment. And now I realise and I feel humiliated and really angry about that. And once again, just how manipulated I feel’.
Even though she knows it was not her fault that Walker or the doctor assaulted her, ‘I also am aware of just how passive I’ve been from a child right through till now. And the world happens to me, I don’t make anything happen in the world ... I know it can be cultural, sociological, and we were brought up that way and I feel angry about that’.
Gwenda studied and found employment in the community sector, ‘and worked with abused children etc. I’ve done some good work. I think sometimes these sorts of issues send you off in directions ... Looking for answers for yourself as well as others’.
Growing older, and hearing more in the media about child sexual abuse, has made Gwenda reflect on her experiences further. She has a counsellor, but as yet has not mentioned the sexual abuse in their sessions.
‘I think it’s affected me more in later years now. Like in a way I suppose it’s been good, the publicity, but also it brings it to the surface and you have to deal with it again and the ramifications ... The ball starts rolling, and every day there’s some little thought or memory comes to mind.’
Thinking about how problems in her adult life may be connected to the abuse in her childhood is difficult. ‘I mean, I know that from an intellectual perspective, but to actually take it on personally is quite traumatic really.’