No one hugged Irma until she was 18. ‘I never experienced love or physical affection at all’, she told the Commissioner. Her first hug was from a friend’s mother.
Irma’s mother didn’t cope with her large family of daughters – who arrived very quickly, one after the other – and her father was always playing sport or working. This complete lack of attention left Irma wide open to the advances of David Greydon, one of only two male teachers at her very strict, all-girl Catholic school in Melbourne.
‘He seemed to have a warmth about him that no one else did in my life up to that point.’ David Greydon was the only person to show interest in Irma ‘other than being fed, watered and educated’.
In fact all the girls at school thought he was ‘the world on wheels’.
In Year 11, Mr Greydon took his small class out to study on the steps of the convent. In Year 12 this progressed to study sessions at his house, where he passed around alcohol and cigarettes. Irma remembers the flagons of wine that were lined up by the fireplace. She also remembers how he made her feel special. He’d make her sit next to him, he’d drive her home.
When school ended, they still socialised. He’d go to her house and drink wine with her parents. They admired his scholarship and his interesting conversation but Irma would secretly wonder what Greydon was doing there.
They started doing ‘physical stuff’. Irma still didn’t twig that this might not be normal. ‘I had no experience sexually … The only experience I had of personal relationships at all was bickering with my sisters.’
Then one night ‘the event happened. He just … did it. And it was very unpleasant and it was not the way it was normally done … It was anal rape and I didn’t know that you could do it that way ... He just flipped me over onto my stomach … and it was so fast. And when it happened I left my body and I went behind a glass wall. My body was not my own and I couldn’t fight him off ... I just thought I’ll hide behind the wall … it’s happening to someone else.
‘After that I was shown the door and I had to get myself tidied up.’
Irma told no one what had happened. Greydon sought her out again and told her he was seeing someone else but wanted to make sure he was marrying the right person. Irma was gobsmacked. She told him not to come back. ‘I don’t like what you do … I never asked for it.’
The memory of Greydon’s abuse then went underground completely. Irma functioned for years on two levels. She was fine in the outside world of jobs, despite continued anxiety and panic, but she was ‘hopeless’ at relationships with men. They frightened her. ‘I couldn’t love them and had no trust.’
She socialised in a group, never one-to-one, even though a couple of men tried to get close. Irma did get married eventually and had children, but her mental health was always rocky.
When her daughter turned 17 Irma fell apart, but because her psychiatrist kept her ‘drugged to the eyeballs’ to keep her calm, she never got to the root of her anxiety. Finally Irma started seeing a female psychiatrist who she trusted.
Through counselling, Irma realised that her daughter’s birthday was a trigger for her own buried sexual abuse.
One of the hardest things for Irma now is her conviction that, not only has she wasted her potential but she’s wasted time and money on chasing useless cures and treatments. ‘I spent my life fighting anxiety and depression … and it was all I could do.’
Irma has now told the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) about Greydon. She’s also looking into financial compensation, hoping to recoup the money she’s spent on medical bills. Irma feels guilty about that. She also feels guilty about not being a good wife because she’s been so ‘bound up’ in her own head.
‘You go into some pretty dark places in your mind with this and when you see on the news … child abuse, child abuse, child abuse, you think God, the world just needs to start again … What is it with humanity? What is wrong?’