Katherine's story

Katherine grew up in Queensland in the 1960s. ‘I would describe my background as very stable. My mum and dad [are] … still in a really happy, committed relationship. I have a large extended family … a connected family … So I don’t know … I don’t know how it all unravelled like it did.’

In a written statement, Katherine told the Royal Commission that when she was in her final year of school, one of her female teachers ‘initiated a mentoring relationship with me’. The teacher would regularly invite Katherine and another girl to her house, where she lived with her female partner. When school finished for the year, the teacher began inviting Katherine to visit alone.

A week after her 18th birthday, the teacher initiated a sexual relationship with Katherine. ‘I had never been in a sexual relationship with anyone and did not anticipate the change in relationship. The nature of this was traumatic. The pursuit for sex happened over a period of one and a half weeks. I was ill-equipped to manage the change in the relationship and the pressure to perform sexually. This angered them. I engaged in sexual activity to appease this anger.’

After the sexual relations ceased, the teacher told Katherine not to tell anyone and that ‘I was equally responsible for what had happened. They were very angry when they said this to me’. Soon after, the teacher moved away and took up a teaching position elsewhere, Katherine has ‘lived with the consequences of this experience for the remainder of my life’.

Katherine told the Commissioner, ‘I did not know what to call what happened to me. I had no name to call what happened to me. I could not call it a relationship. I was 18 and therefore legally an adult. I was told not to tell anyone. There was nothing that I could pin my experience to, so I lived with this experience that I could not name and told no one’. As an adult, Katherine began to understand that prior to her turning 18, the teacher had been grooming her.

‘This is a difficult experience for me to articulate with others. I have managed this by myself except when the symptoms of PTSD necessitate my seeking therapeutic intervention. The current literature refers predominantly to sexual abuse by men, however there is a minority of people who have experienced abuse by women. This lack of recognition and understanding of this isolates them further.’

Katherine told the Commissioner, ‘The literature predominantly refers to children, however there is a cohort of people who are groomed in their late teenage years then abused … they fall through the gap because of their age. This perpetuates feelings of responsibility, silences them and exacerbates the symptoms from the impact of abuse because they have nowhere to turn’.

‘Professional boundaries between teachers and students should be legislated to recognise the emotional vulnerability that can be taken advantage by teachers, particularly in the immediate years [after] graduation.’

Katherine believes that no sexual relationship should occur between a teacher and a student for at least two years after graduation. ‘This will provide time for the ex-student to mature emotionally, for the dynamics of student/teacher to move from a current influential force to one that can be viewed … by a past student who has a further two years of maturity to guide decision-making.’

Katherine told the Commissioner that coming to the Royal Commission was ‘not easy but I want to do it’.

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