Judy’s eight-year-old son Hugo was attending a Victorian state school for children with disabilities when he was sexually abused by Craig, a teacher’s aide, a couple of years ago.
When Judy was putting Hugo to bed one evening she rubbed his back, and he commented, ‘Ah, that’s how Craig massages Hugo’. She asked Hugo if Craig just rubbed his shoulders, and he then lifted his shirt and demonstrated ‘a rubbing motion around his tummy area’ and told her ‘Craig bite, Craig rough, Craig say stop’, indicating he had put his hands out to indicate he wanted Craig to stop as well.
The next morning Hugo came into Judy’s bed for cuddles, and she asked if Craig had hurt him. He replied ‘Yes, Craig hurt Hugo bum with finger but Hugo brave boy and Hugo no cry’, and said that this had happened when Craig was helping him get changed for swimming. After this he refused to discuss it any further, saying ‘it is too rude’.
Judy and Hugo’s father decided to report the matter to police. She was contacted by an officer, Karen, from a specialised sexual offences and child abuse team. Karen advised Judy to bring Hugo in but not to talk to him about Craig on the way there. This was against the way Judy usually approached new situations with Hugo, but nonetheless she told him they were just going to speak with a lady.
When they arrived at the station Hugo appeared ‘overstimulated’ and ‘hyperactive’ because of his new surroundings. Karen introduced herself and they went through to an interview room. At first they just chatted with Hugo about some toy cars that were in the room. Karen was having difficulties understanding Hugo’s speech, and it was up to Judy to explain what he was telling her.
Karen took Judy downstairs and asked her some questions about what Hugo had said about Craig. Hugo was left alone in the room, which concerned Judy as there was a window and equipment there, and she did not know what he might do if unsupervised.
Next, Karen interviewed Hugo on his own – he was not given the option of having a support person familiar with communicating with autistic children – while Judy waited in the foyer. This interview was ‘ten minutes at the most’, and Karen then told her they should go outside to discuss it. They went and put Hugo in the car, and stood on the street talking about the interview, which Judy found strange.
Karen said that she hadn’t been able to understand what Hugo told her, ‘and that if she had trouble understanding him then, if this went to court, the court would have trouble understanding Hugo too’. When Judy asked what they might do from here, Karen enquired if there was another school Hugo could attend. Karen also stated that Hugo looked ‘happy enough’ and didn’t ‘seem like’s he’s traumatised’, and said he had indicated he liked Craig. She informed Judy that she would notify the school of the issue, but did not do this.
A week later Judy met with the principal, Mr Lennon, who stated he ‘found it difficult to believe Craig would do such a thing’ and was annoyed that she had already contacted police. Later he called her to say that he had spoken to Karen and ‘there was nothing further to follow up’. He had also questioned Craig, who suggested Hugo may have been jealous of him spending time with another student. Lennon suggested that Craig could visit Judy at home to talk about what happened, an offer she refused. She felt he was ‘not interested in sorting this issue out at all. The education department had still not been notified’.
Judy kept Hugo home for a couple of weeks as Craig was still working at the school. She felt she may need to home school him ‘due to the unprofessional and unsupportive way the school dealt with this issue’. Lennon called her to see when Hugo would return, and told her Craig ‘was having a hard time with the allegations’ and they were providing him with counselling.
‘The school has been more concerned regarding Craig’s feelings rather than Hugo’s ... Craig was offered counselling, Hugo was not offered counselling.’
Judy contacted a disability support organisation and was assigned one of their advocates, Emma. Both she and Emma attempted to organise another police interview for Hugo, this time with an appropriate support person present. Karen was aggressive in her manner when dismissing this request, saying to Judy ‘I’ve told you there was nothing to investigate. How do I know you have not put words into Hugo’s head?’
Emma attempted to report the incident to the education department – but was told to speak directly to the school as it was up to the principal to investigate complaints against staff. Next Emma made a report to the ombudsman. They listened carefully and told her they would make a referral to the education department. After this step Judy was contacted by the department and told that Hugo’s school had put in additional measures to ensure students were safe.
However, when Hugo returned to the school, Judy discovered that Craig was still being left alone with children; he even told Hugo not to let his mum know this. Judy wrote to Lennon saying she had advised the department about this breach of policy, but he denied it. He also implied that Hugo had told lies at school, which she believes was meant to suggest Hugo had lied about what Craig did. Judy told the Commissioner that, as an autistic child, Hugo does not have the capacity to lie – he never has and always tells things as they are.
Judy and Emma are disheartened at the lack of support from the school, especially as it does not recognise or address Craig being a potential danger to children.
As a result of the abuse Hugo, who has an ongoing physical health condition which requires regular check-ups, now panics if he is to be examined by a male doctor. Both he and Judy are now receiving counselling.