The court case, Janet said, was the hardest thing.
‘That was harder than the abuse, for me personally. I would have been happy enough to slap his face if I just saw him, because I’m a person who puts things into context. And in the horrible things in the world mine wasn’t as horrible as some.’
The reason Janet participated in the trial against her old gym instructor, Andrew Leonard, was because of the damage he did to her friends.
Janet was one of about a dozen girls who were sexually abused by Leonard in the early 1960s. All the girls were about nine or 10 years old when the abuse began. Leonard carefully selected each girl to be part of his gymnastics squad, making them feel special. Soon after that he began touching them. Some girls suffered more extreme acts of abuse than others.
‘My abuse was minor in comparison to the others’, Janet said. ‘Mine involved masturbation … My friend Alison, everything you could think of happened to her.’
To facilitate this abuse, Leonard ingratiated himself with the school staff and the girls’ parents. Among the adults he had a glowing reputation and was revered for all the ‘good work’ he did for the school.
Eventually he was so well respected that when one of the girls disclosed to her mother that she’d been abused, and the mother complained to the principal, not a thing was done and the whole issue vanished with barely a whisper.
As far as Janet knows, none of the other girls, herself included, ever mentioned the abuse to their parents. Janet had two reasons for keeping quiet. First, she was afraid of what her dad might do if he found out. ‘I knew he could handle himself’, she said, ‘and I didn’t want him to be in trouble for bashing a teacher’.
The second reason was one she shared with her classmates. After the court case they all talked it over and agreed: they kept quiet because, despite the abuse, they loved the gym squad and didn’t want to see it disbanded. It felt like a family.
Janet would have stayed with the squad into her teens if she could, but some family troubles intervened and she had to quit after about a year. The result was that she escaped further abuse. Sadly, the abuse she’d already suffered stuck with her, infecting her relationship with her partner decades later.
‘During our personal moments, any touching of that area – Leonard’s in bed with us. And I’ll never get that out of me. It’s something that never goes away.’
In the late 1990s Janet got a call from police. They informed her that her friend Alison was making an official complaint against Leonard and asked her if she’d like to do the same. Janet not only agreed to make a statement, she provided police with Leonard’s current address and the names of several other girls who’d also been abused.
Leonard was arrested and brought to trial on multiple counts of sexual abuse of multiple girls. For Janet and the other survivors, the court process was devastating. The first trial was aborted because Alison ‘said something in the witness box’, the significance of which has never been explained to Janet or the others.
At the end of the second trial Leonard was acquitted and walked free. Janet couldn’t believe it. ‘It was just terrible. Why would they think we would come to court, put ourselves through it, reliving it, and not be believed?’
The injustice of the trial rankled Janet. She feared that Leonard might abuse another child. She had to do something so she drove to the little town were Leonard lived, not sure what her next move would be.
Janet was shocked by the beauty of the town; it looked like ‘paradise’. She stopped to have lunch and got chatting to one of the locals.
‘They asked me why I was in the town and I said I was here to check out where my paedophile schoolteacher lives. I said, “We didn’t get a conviction on him so he’s not a convicted paedophile”. I said, “They’ll probably put me in jail for even being here but I had to know where he lived”. And I really thought his community deserved to know they had someone so evil in their town.’
Janet didn’t want the townspeople to do anything violent to Leonard.
‘I encouraged them not to do anything that would get them into any sort of trouble. I said, “Just be aware not to have the children near him. Please don’t do anything physical to him”, because that’s not what I wanted. “I just want you to be aware”.’