Hildy’s most persistent memory from the day the police came to her school in Sydney is the hurt she felt when the principal treated her coldly. She didn’t realise that what he’d been doing to her, a seven-year-old, was wrong.
Most of the girls in her class were sexually abused by the principal, Hildy said. ‘He did everything you could think of, other than actually rape us kids … and I just didn’t know there was anything wrong.’
She doesn’t know if it happened in the other classes.
‘I just remember the police coming to school, calling a number of girls into the principal’s office and then calling me in, and I was very friendly with the principal, to say the least. He was a good friend of mine, unfortunately, and when I ran up to say hi he had this look on his face as if to say “Excuse me, you’re a student, you stand behind the desk”. And I remember being extremely offended.’
After the police came to the school, ‘he wasn’t seen again’.
It took a long time for Hildy to realise that she’d been sexually abused, but she doesn’t blame anyone now for what happened to her.
‘Unfortunate things happen in life to people. And anyone who says they’ve had a great life shouldn’t look around the corner … Life is full of challenges. I don’t blame anyone. I don’t seek recrimination. The guy’s no longer alive.’
Hildy doesn’t believe her school could have done anything differently at that time and that the religious leaders associated with the school were good counsellors.
Hildy came forward to ‘create a little bit of positive energy’ and in case her story might be useful, but she’s ambivalent about the work of the Royal Commission. She believes that it’s publicly shaming many good religious leaders and educators.
‘You can choose to have a bit of empathy and sympathy, not just for victims of paedophilia but for people who have brought up these children, and the good that’s in them … And it’s a sad day when I have to see the Australian Government responsible for humiliating so many good people.’
Hildy sees a purpose in trying to rectify a school’s response to paedophilia but believes the shoe could equally be on the other foot. ‘The government is trying to put the blame on schools for cover-ups when where were they, themselves, to legislate how to deal with such problems?’
Culturally, things have changed, Hildy said. There used to be a sense of not wanting to embarrass the victim, which held people back. It wasn’t called a cover-up.
She believes that these days, a seven-year-old child would come forward and disclose any sexual abuse. ‘They’ve got access to smartphones and they’ve got access to porn sites and … the most horrific programs on television … access to violence … sexual immorality … Nowadays the kids rule and they’re not afraid of anything.’
As for her own experience, even Hildy’s husband didn’t know about it until the Commission started. Now everyone in her family knows. ‘Once I want to say something, I say it.’
When the Commissioner asked her about emotional support from her family, Hildy said she was her own support. ‘What are they going to tell me? “Sit down, Mum. Here’s a box of tissues. Cry your eyes out”? I’m their support …
‘A lot of terrible things happen to people in life and you just have to, have to get over it … Life’s never the same but you have to put it in a little box and put it in the bottom of your heart and that’s it … I try and focus on the blessings.’