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Kathrin's story

‘I can’t even get angry at this little boy, but what has made me angry is what the school did to me and my husband and my daughter after all this. It’s not right.’

Kathrin and her husband James came to the Royal Commission to talk about what happened to their daughter, Emily, when she was a six-year-old student at a Catholic school. One afternoon while driving home, Kathrin asked Emily the same question that she always asked.

‘I said “How was your day? Who did you play with?” And she said “Mummy, I played with Toby”. And then she said “But Mummy, he made a bad choice”. I said “What was that?” She said “He touched me”.’

Kathrin asked Emily what the boy had done. ‘In my mind just thinking he’s just given her a touch or a tickle or whatever, and she’s taken it the wrong way or something. And she said “No, Mummy, he touched me down there”. I didn’t ask her any more questions because my heart was racing.’

At home Kathrin put Emily into the shower then rang the school. She spoke to Emily’s classroom teacher who assured her that she would ‘deal with it’. Returning then to Emily, Kathrin tried to get some more details about the incident. Emily said that it had happened three times. Looking back, Kathrin suspects Emily may have downplayed the truth because ‘I lost it and I panicked in front of her. And then therefore I think she thought she was making me upset’.

When she’d calmed down a little, Kathrin asked Emily why she hadn’t mentioned Toby’s behaviour to her classroom teacher. ‘Emily said “Mummy, I thought she would yell in front of the class and everybody would know”.’

Kathrin spoke with her husband. Neither of them knew how to react. ‘I was desperate just to know what to do or where to go or what to say to her. But it’s obviously not a common thing, and we were lost.’

Fortunately, Kathrin knew a man who was a police officer in another state. She rang him and he advised her to report the incident to local police. Kathrin and James spoke to two detectives that night. The detectives were helpful and reassuring. ‘They were amazing’, Kathrin said.

At this point it looked like some control was returning to the situation. The next morning, however, Kathrin and James met with the school principal and everything fell apart.

‘I can deal with what happened to Emily,’ Kathrin said, ‘but I can’t deal with what happened afterwards with the school. I can’t. It was traumatising’.

The principal challenged Kathrin about whether the incident had even occurred. ‘To the point where he said to my face “Nobody actually saw what happened”. And as a mother, I wanted to reach over that table and strangle that man.’

Kathrin and James took Emily out of school and spent the few remaining days of term trying to figure out what they should do. It was a period of intense stress and confusion. Even the most seemingly obvious choices had unexpected consequences. For instance, Kathrin’s first instinct was to remove Emily from the school. Then a counsellor told her ‘just be careful because you don’t want Emily to feel that she’s being punished’.

Kathrin and James decided to leave Emily at the school, and they spent the last three days of term arguing with the principal. Eventually he agreed that in the new term he would divide the classroom and keep Toby and Emily separated at all times.

Meanwhile, the police reported the matter to the Department and interviewed Toby. They then reported to Kathrin ‘that he denied it but from his body language that they could tell he wasn’t telling the truth’. They said that because of Toby’s age, there was nothing more they could do. Kathrin and James never heard anything from the Department.

On the first morning of the new term, James took Emily to school. He saw the principal and reiterated his demand that the kids be kept in separate classrooms at all times. In the afternoon Kathrin arrive to pick Emily up. On her way in, the principal took her aside and told her that he’d disregarded the agreed plan and put Emily and Toby in the same classroom. Kathrin was outraged.

‘I thought, how dare you? My daughter’s suffered, and is scared of this boy and you’ve gone and put him in her face without even speaking to me.’

Kathrin then phoned Janine Masters, a senior member of the Catholic diocese and said to her ‘“I don’t understand this, because he spoke to the police. The police even said it’s best to keep them separated … I don’t understand what his problem is with separating these kids”. She said “I’m assuming the other parents have been the ones to cry about it, make more of a fuss”. I said “Fine, you want a fuss, I’m going to make a fuss”.’

Out of that phone call came another meeting with the principal, this time with Masters mediating. Kathrin was impressed. ‘She wanted to help. We got a lot out of her. More than any time I had spent trying to deal with this principal.’

The principal apologised and put a new plan into place: the classroom was divided, Emily and Toby were kept separate, there was extra supervision for Emily and she was allowed to choose her own ‘safe person’ at the school to talk to whenever she liked.

This seemed like progress, but there were still some things that made Kathrin and James uneasy. For one, the principal had instructed them to keep quiet about everything, warning that any publicity would harm Emily. Kathrin felt torn. She wanted to protect Emily from bullying, but she feared that if she didn’t speak out, Toby might try to touch other children.

By pure coincidence, Kathrin learned that her fears were right. A staff member told her that a boy had been behaving inappropriately during after-school sports. Kathrin asked if it was Toby.

‘Her face just dropped. I went “You’re kidding me?” Like, they’re supposed to protect our kids … I don’t care if they think the parents are a good family, who knows what happens in someone’s home? And I said to her “What happens here? Did those parents get notified?” She said “No, I don’t think so”.’

Eventually Toby’s parents removed him from the school. Emily stayed on. For a while she suffered severe anxiety and missed a lot of classes, but now she’s feeling more settled and is achieving top results. Kathrin has also suffered anxiety and panic attacks. The school, meanwhile, carries on unchanged.

James said, ‘I believe the school still operates with no proper protocols or some sort of rules or memorandum in place to actually run the school. Which is unbelievable these days’.

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