Heather Elise's story

'She did really well in the … exam. She's getting As. So, you think, he's obviously teaching her that, you know. But I just had a gut feeling but I couldn't put my finger on it.'

Heather and Scott's daughter, Shannon, was sexually abused in the 1980s by a private teacher. Heather believes it happened on a regular basis, from when Shannon was 12 up until she was 16. Shannon has since gotten on with her life but Heather came in to tell the Commissioner of the frustration that she and her husband experienced as a result of the Church and police responses.

When Shannon attended a private school on Sydney's north shore, she came in contact with a private teacher, Ryan Blake, who other parents had recommended to Heather.

Some of the private lessons were conducted at a nearby Catholic church, where Blake was doing some work. Blake also got Shannon involved in a church organisation, which was all adults.

'I thought it was all a bit strange … She'd be gone quite a long while with him … It was all so vague every time I asked her, it was "Yeah, yeah. Everything's fine". She was scared witless of him, absolutely, it turns out.'

The abuse stopped when Heather became aware of it and she and Scott broke off contact between Shannon and Blake. Blake insisted on maintaining contact and Heather and Scott had to call the police. It was then that they were told that Blake had previously been jailed for sexual assault.

Shannon and Heather both made police statements. Heather remembers the police being 'very nice'. As a result of an investigation other children came forward. Blake was charged and a court date was set. They arrived at the courthouse but Blake didn't appear. He had left town and Heather was frustrated to discover later that the police had known that for two days prior to the hearing.

Blake didn't go far. Heather heard he had set up business in a nearby town. 'But the police, they did nothing. They didn't seem interested.'

Heather and her sister tracked down Blake's whereabouts and gave his address to the police. But the police did nothing. Very shortly after that, Heather heard from the police that Blake had left the country.

About four or five years ago (about 25 years after Heather first reporting Blake to police), the police contacted Heather's family again, saying that Interpol had found Blake and asking if Shannon would be willing to testify. Shannon said she was willing. However, they never heard back from the police.

And then about 18 months ago, a new detective – and it's always a new detective that contacts them, Heather said – started looking through the old cases and rang Heather to tell her they had found Blake. 'I said, "Well, why can't you bring him back?" [Answer] "Well, we need to get his fingerprints. When he goes and has a cup of coffee somewhere, we need to get his fingerprints off that coffee cup so we can identify it's him". Can't they take him to the police station and fingerprint him? … And so nothing happens. Nothing. We never hear another thing.'

Heather and her family were appalled that Blake, with his criminal record, was allowed out on bail in the first place. Back in the 80s, Heather made an appointment to see the then attorney general, to see what could be done about changing the laws. She didn't want this to happen to other people. She took Shannon with her and the other girls who had a case against Blake, the youngest being 12. Heather was shocked by the attorney general's response.

'[He] more or less told us that these girls bring it on themselves. They asked for it. And he probably called for our statements – Shannon's and mine – and they're missing. They don't exist anymore.'

Heather can only speculate as to why the police statements have gone. However, the attorney general had a family member who was connected to Blake. In fact, Blake was very popular and highly respected by many people that were associated with him. 'I was rung up and abused by these people. I've even got a letter … from one of them saying how I'd ruined all their lives and blah, blah, blah by doing this.'

At the time, Heather also approached the parish priest of the church where much of the abuse happened. He accepted that the abuse did occur in his church and that Shannon was active in the church organisation but, Heather recalled, he simply responded with: 'I knew nothing. It's very sad but I knew nothing'.

Heather didn't pursue any action against the Church. She also didn't ever seek legal advice. 'I think now perhaps I should have.' Nor have Heather and Scott ever sought any form of counselling for themselves. They have always been focussed on their daughter.

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