‘My innocent, fun-loving school days came to a screaming halt approximately halfway through Grade 5.’
Kaylene grew up on a farm in rural Victoria, the middle child of the family, and attended a one-room school in the 1970s. While in Grade 4, the sole teacher was replaced by a new headmaster, Phil Stevens. He was quickly welcomed into the small community along with Viv Jenkins, a recent teaching graduate who taught the lower grades.
Stevens and his family became very friendly with Kaylene’s parents and even went away with them on camping trips.
It was in Grade 5 that Stevens, then in his 30s, began inappropriately touching Kaylene, usually while she was reading aloud. At times he would rub himself against her back and soon she could feel his erection.
Aged 10 and with no sex education, she didn’t know what it was but knew that ‘gyrating his groin into my back … wasn’t normal’.
‘I believe I stopped asking questions so he wouldn’t need to offer any help’, she told the Commissioner. But the touching continued.
‘Soon he also started leaning over me, and fondling and stroking my right breast through my clothes. I would be frozen with fear and he would be enjoying himself while listening to me read. I’m not sure how I was even able to speak.’
Confronted by this big, booming-voiced male teacher who often became enraged before his fearful pupils, Kaylene froze each time he touched her. Stevens progressed through more boundaries thanks to ‘careful seating arrangements and desks placed with a lot of planning’ so he could sit next to Kaylene while she read.
His hand could now move up her leg under the desk or down her shirts and jumpers ‘feeling for my bare skin’. Stevens also touched Kaylene inside her underwear. She wore jeans in a search for any protection possible.
Several times he ‘managed to trap me’ outside the classroom, in the girls’ toilet and a storeroom, Kaylene said. Despite promises not to touch her again, Stevens reneged. Another time he masturbated in full view of her during a trip away with her parents.
‘I was very scared of him. I probably didn’t think my parents would believe me and at that point in time I thought I was the only victim of the vile abuse.’
Hoping to last long enough to escape to high school in another town, Kaylene’s exposure to Stevens’s molestation came to an end in Grade 6 when a younger pupil told Kaylene's brother he had seen Stevens touching her.
Her brother told her mother who called a meeting of parents – probably the whole school council, Kaylene thought – and the police were called. Within months Stevens pleaded guilty to indecent assault and moved interstate. Kaylene was told he continued teaching and has since died.
No counselling was ever offered to Kaylene or her family, ‘which I’m really angry about’, nor was an apology offered by the Victorian Department of Education which, she feels, let her down.
‘I lost my innocence and an important part of my childhood over two unhappy years of my primary education and that wasn’t fair … ‘Phil Stevens’ vulgar behaviour was never spoken about or heard or mentioned again … we were all [at school] expected to carry on as if nothing had ever happened.’
Kaylene still feels guilt, shame and embarrassment for what happened, despite acknowledging that her whole family was groomed by him and ‘it wasn’t my fault’. It does not stop her continuing to question why she put up with it for so long.
‘But then I remember how scared, vulnerable and naive I was, always believing that his revolting behaviour was going to stop.’
And when she had to give her police statement, 11-year-old Kaylene felt uncomfortable. ‘I’m trying to say all the right words, you know, “Well, he touched me on the vagina”, and stuff like that. But she’s, “No, no, how would you say it in your words?” … I think she felt that that wouldn’t be a word that I would use at the time.’
Kaylene felt confused at the policewoman’s questioning of her language. ‘I guess they have to have a parent with you but I was really embarrassed and I don’t know whether I would have said more if my mother wasn’t there’, particularly given that her mother and Stevens’s wife had been good friends.
For instance, because it didn’t happen at school, Kaylene never told police about the masturbation by Stevens on the camping trip.
Several years ago Kaylene contacted Viv Jenkins, the other teacher who had arrived at the school at the same time as Stevens. Viv told her that ‘other children’ were also abused. And while Viv wanted to talk about it at the time, ‘she said they [teachers] weren’t allowed to’.
Despite a happy marriage with children of her own, Kaylene has had difficulty establishing relationships and has been ‘wary’ of men. She still fears that people who learn about her past might think she would also be an abuser and prevent their children mixing with hers.
She also recalled ‘how uncomfortable I felt if a man wanted to put his arm over my shoulder or rest his hand on my leg’.
‘Even today I feel really uncomfortable wearing a dress or skirt.’
She has never sought professional counselling or treatment. An apology from the Victorian Department of Education would still be appreciated and she might now consider compensation after getting advice.
‘I just want to thank you guys, as well as the government, for actually making this possible.’