Kendal grew up in a large family in Western Australia in the late 1950s. She described her family as ‘a mess’. Her father died when she was eight years old and her mother became a ‘high functioning’ alcoholic.
When Kendal was 12 years old she joined a performing arts studio. She said the friends she made there were her ‘true family’ and she enjoyed her weekly lessons. She was taught by Tristan Waters, a ‘charming’ man in his 50s who took a liking to her, making her feel ‘special’.
Over the next four years Waters sexually abused her on several occasions. He had all students perform sexual exercises and stretches which included him touching the children inappropriately in class. Waters also took Kendal outside during class time, forced her to perform oral sex and told her to take his ‘seed’ on multiple occasions.
‘I remember I was sitting there and this is after I had done what he wanted and he said, “Is there something wrong?” I [asked] if I could get pregnant because I was scared of getting pregnant. I was that naive, I thought I could get pregnant orally.’
Kendal was chosen to help Waters teach a toddlers’ class when she turned 13. She said he always picked her up from her home and then used these opportunities to sexually abuse her further at the studio, in the car and his home. She believes that someone should have ‘seen what was going on’ as Waters would often kiss her passionately in the car on the street.
She didn’t tell anyone about the abuse because she ‘didn’t know it was wrong’. She continued going to classes and acted as ‘normal’ for another year before moving to a different state. She was very upset when she left the studio.
When she was 16 years old, Kendal returned to Western Australia and also the studio. The abuse continued for another year, but she noticed that Waters was less interested in her this time around. She believes that she was ‘too old’ for him and she became aware of his sexualised behaviour.
In the mid-1970s, when Kendal was 17, her friend Lucia came to her, crying. Lucia told Kendal that Waters ‘tried to use his penis’ on her. Kendal told her mother about Lucia and her own abuse and her mother reported Waters to police. She felt ‘interrogated’ when the police officer asked if she was ‘doing this with other boys’. Kendal said she was and was told by the officer that ‘nice girls don’t do that’.
‘It was filthy, dirty, disgusting and shameful, which is why to this day I don’t talk about it. I read this stuff and it’s like someone else. I don’t discuss what went on because it’s disgusting and I’m ashamed and I still blame myself. I always will because there’s other girls who didn’t do it, plenty of other girls who didn’t do stuff like that.’
Kendal made her statement and the police went through her belongings and took several poems and books from her. She said she felt horrible about the abuse and blamed herself, particularly because of what the police officer had said to her. She said the officer’s comment affected her statement and she left ‘a lot of detail’ out.
‘I felt the police used me, they stole from me … He had given me poems, books with messages, and they took my stuff. It was never returned to me, it was never offered to be returned to me … And they left me.’
There was no follow up from the police after Kendal made her statement. She said her mother may have spoken to the police, but nothing was confirmed. With the benefit of hindsight, she believes the police should have told her exactly what happened. She believed for many years that her perpetrator was convicted and was told ‘not to work with children again’ because her mother told her that.
‘There’s a presumption that [the police] can tell the parents and the parents will sit down quietly and explain everything to the children. I think people need to understand if these parents were good at their job, the kids probably wouldn’t be in that position in the first place.’
What hurt Kendal the most was that her friends from the studio all lost contact with her. She explained that the families with children who had been abused by Waters ‘wanted to keep it a secret’. As an adult, Kendal suffered from flashbacks and nightmares. She said that she is ‘an angry person’ who often deflects and shuts people out. She suffers from depression and has had two major depressive episodes in her life.
When she was in her 30s she wanted to find out what happened to Waters so she tried to access the court documents. Kendal described the whole experience as ‘hurtful’ and frustrating because she was denied them for a period of time after being told that they didn’t exist.
It wasn’t until the mid-2010s that she was able to read her statement and was upset with the lack of detail about the abuse. The whole process was so distressing for Kendal that she wishes she had never reported what happened. Waters has since died.