Janis's story

Janis was raised to be a ‘good girl’, and do what adults told her. A quiet, shy child, she began her education at a government primary school on Sydney’s north shore.

It was the mid-1970s, and Ed Sutton was the deputy principal. Janis told the Royal Commission how Sutton began sexually abusing her when she was five years old.

She was sent to Sutton’s office one day, to show him a picture she had drawn of a blue wren. There was a ruler on the desk and he asked her, ‘Do you see this ruler? It’s just like a penis. When a penis is happy it goes hard.

‘I remember sitting there being completely freaked out. He was smiling, and lovely. He said, “Would you like me to show you one time?” And I said, “Yes”, because I was good, and I was terrified.’

Another time when she went to the office, Sutton took off his trousers. His penis was erect, and he asked her if she would like to touch it. ‘And I didn’t want to touch it, but I was a good girl, and I touched it.’

Sutton would always say things like, ‘That feels nice, doesn’t it? You like that, don’t you?’ Gradually, the abuse progressed to oral sex. ‘I sucked it. I was very quiet, I did everything I was told. I never told anyone. And I remember going to the toilets afterwards, and trying to get the semen out of my mouth, and cleaning myself.’

A lot of times Janis would be abused during the lunch break, but Sutton would also call her out of class to his office. ‘He was a very clever man. I have a memory of me having him fully sexually penetrating me on a desk.’

Janis remembers an instance when her classmate Dianne watched her fellate Sutton, ‘and I realised he was also doing it to Dianne’. After this, Dianne began bullying and physically assaulting Janis in the playground.

There was another time when Sutton forced Dianne to sit on Janis’s face ‘and I had to suck her’. Janis also remembers that Sutton threatened to involve her sister, who was also at the school, in the abuse.

The principal, Miss Wallis, witnessed the abuse by Sutton one time, and she also sexually abused Janis. She would look on and laugh after forcing other girls to sit on Janis’s face. There are some things about Wallis that Janis thinks she may not have completely remembered yet.

Janis was sexually abused for around 12 months, throughout first and second grade. She felt vulnerable because she’d recently emigrated to Australia, and her parents were struggling with the move. ‘I think over a period of time, it [the abuse] made me feel special.’

It ended when Sutton stopped teaching at the school. Janis felt like his leaving was somehow her fault, but she was also extremely relieved. ‘I remember going out into the playground at lunchtime and playing skipping, and thinking, all I want to do at lunchtime is skip. I just want to skip.’ She changed schools soon after, and recalls a ‘feeling of being safe – it was unbelievable.’

It’s only recently that Janis has started to clearly recall the sexual abuse. This has happened through a combination of spontaneous memories, and therapy including Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). She also went to have a look at the school, which was difficult but further reinforced her recollections.

Janis has never told her parents about her experiences, and doesn’t know if she ever will. Her sister refuses to speak about her time there. She has tried dealing with the education department to obtain some files, but they were ‘unbelievably unhelpful’. So far, she has not reported the abuse to the school nor sought any compensation.

She has now made a statement to police. The detective she is dealing with has treated her well and the matter is still under investigation. Sutton has been located, but is now in his 90s, so it is uncertain if prosecution may be possible.

Still, ‘I think he’s the biggest fuckwit, and I hope he ends up rotting in jail’.

During one very cathartic therapy session, Janis had a breakthrough and began laughing. Afterwards she realised she no longer felt threatened by Sutton, and ‘I’ve got that monkey off my back’.

However, she is ‘still terrified of Miss Wallis’, despite knowing Wallis is deceased. Janis continues to wake up in terror every morning, feeling ‘like they’re coming to get me, and I often end up throwing up’.

Janis is supported by her husband, a network of good friends and weekly sessions with her psychologist. ‘It’s tough, but I’ll get there.’ Registering to share her story with the Commission also helped. ‘Knowing that I can say it. Even though I felt crazy, I don’t feel crazy at all now.’

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