Julia grew up in a working class Catholic family on the outskirts of Brisbane and commenced high school in the early 1970s. The school was run by an order of Catholic nuns, but for the first few years Julia was taught by a lay teacher named Vivian Hardy.
Looking back, Julia believes that Vivian began to ‘prime’ her as soon as she arrived. The teacher would ‘talk inappropriately’ to her, stare at her during class and make ‘the occasional brief touch’.
At the same time, Vivian started to ingratiate herself with Julia’s family, visiting the home and offering to take Julia on drives in her car. Julia told the Commissioner, ‘She was soon calling my mother and father Mum and Dad’.
From there Vivian’s behaviour quickly escalated.
‘She drove me to her place saying she had to pick something up before driving me home. And I was at her place and I was sitting in a chair opposite her, she had her feet up on my chair and she then started to use her toe to basically put it in my vagina. I thought, “God, she doesn’t know what she’s doing”. I didn’t know what to do. I was in a complete panic. I finally got up and then she grabbed me in a passionate kiss and so on and so forth.’
Over the next few months Julia was abused multiple times ‘in our home, in her home and on school property’. Vivian became a regular houseguest. ‘She was staying over and then basically she moved in, so she had open slather on me, basically. It was horrific. I think that’s the cause of my sleep problems even now.’
Julia felt too scared and embarrassed to tell anyone about the abuse. She told the Commissioner that it must have been obvious to her teachers and parents that something was going on, but none of them stepped in to stop it.
She recalled one time when Vivian returned to the family home late at night and passed out drunk in her room. The next morning Julia’s mother opened the door and found Vivian lying on top of her.
‘She still didn’t pick anything up.’ Nor did she react to Julia’s health problems and infections. ‘She didn’t react to that sort of thing which should have been a clue, but that was the era.’
In Julia’s third year of high school Vivian was fired from her teaching post and the abuse slowly came to an end.
‘To keep me quiet she’d still take me out and touch me and say “there’s nothing wrong with this” and that sort of thing, but it dwindled out.’
For the next 20 years Julia kept the abuse mostly to herself, mentioning it briefly to her husband in the early 1980s but never reporting it to police or the school.
Then in the 1990s a difficult pregnancy motivated her to speak out. ‘It was a terrible time but after that he was such a delightful child, I just thought, “All of my boys, if anyone touched them I’d want to kill them”.’
Julia approached the police and made a statement. Vivian was then arrested and charged. She maintained a plea of not guilty until two days before the trial then changed it to guilty and received a two year suspended sentence.
Julia said she was unhappy with the leniency of the sentence and the legal process generally. She told the Commissioner that the prosecutions officer assigned to support her never showed up and she was forced to walk past Vivian when she entered the courtroom.
After the criminal trial Julia started a settlement process with the school and received a ‘totally inadequate’ payment. ‘They have been so disdainful in the way they treat me it’s disgusting. Just plain cold.’
Now Julia gets regular help from a psychologist. She maintains a close relationship with her children and feels that it is their love that has helped her survive.
Her relationship with the rest of her family is strained.
‘My family of origin obviously felt guilty and turned that guilt into blaming me and now none of them will have anything to do with me. And in the final years of my father’s life, and the final years of my mother’s, I couldn’t see them …
‘Mary convinced everyone – that’s my second-eldest sister – that I was a nutcase, that I’d made it all up. I don’t know what she told people, but no one will speak to me. … It’s one of the most distressing things in my life. If I could make them understand I’d do anything.’