‘I was having a lot of problems as a teenager and I was really promiscuous and I was being bullied by other kids because of it.’ It was the mid-1980s and Kym was struggling through her third year at a public high school in New South Wales. Out of the blue one day she was sent to visit the school counsellor, Mr Ford.
He ignored Kym’s problems, offered no guidance and immediately started asking questions about her sexual relationships. After that he called her back to his office on a weekly basis, always to talk about sex. Kym said, ‘I now know as an adult that he was titillated by it, but as a teenager I didn’t know that. I thought he was in love with me’.
Eventually Ford began to sexually abuse Kym. He changed the locks on his office door so he could abuse her without threat of interruption, and started picking her up after school events so he could abuse her in his car as well. This pattern continued for several years.
It was during her first year of university, when she was 17, that Kym began to realise the full significance of what Ford was doing to her. She was living in a sharehouse at this stage and still seeing him from time to time. One day she got chatting to her neighbour, Louise, who also happened to be a school counsellor.
‘I said, you know, I’d had an affair. Here’s me not thinking, still, that there’s anything wrong with it. And she was just horrified. She just went, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to report it”.’
Slowly then, as Kym and Louise talked the matter over, Kym began to see the ‘affair’ in a different light. Because she had ‘complete trust’ in Louise, she accepted her suggestion that they each write a letter to the Department of Education, reporting Ford’s behaviour.
A few months later Kym was interviewed by the department. A few months after that, they mailed their findings to Kym and Louise. ‘I can’t remember the words but they said pretty much that I wasn’t telling the truth and they had given him the opportunity to get references from people who all said that basically I was a bad person.’
Kym didn’t know what to do after this setback but Louise ‘was like a dog with a bone’, pursuing the matter for the next two years in the face of cold silence from the department. Eventually she became physically ill as a result of the stress induced by the situation and resigned.
‘It pretty much ruined her career because they wouldn’t believe her. They basically told her she was stupid for believing me, because I was a liar.’
The matter rested there, and Kym tried to put it behind her. This was easier said than done because the abuse had affected her in ways that she couldn’t escape. ‘I had to leave town. It takes me a lot to trust people. My relationships have fallen down over the years.’
As she looked back, Kym said that much of her suffering resulted not from what Ford did, but what he failed to do. ‘He never once gave me advice on stopping having sex with the boys. I was walking home from the swimming pool after school one afternoon and I was dragged by three boys and raped. And I told him. He never tried to stop it … I have no self-confidence. I’ve got eating disorders still. If he had addressed those and helped me with those and referred me to the appropriate people at the time I may not have continued, as an adult, to have those problems. But I did.’
About a decade after Kym first reported the abuse she got a call from Louise, who said that the case had been reopened and asked if she could pass Kym’s number onto the education department. Kym agreed and got a call a few days later. The department scheduled her for an interview which she attended, accompanied by her psychiatrist.
This time, when Kym told her story, the department listened. Afterwards she received a letter. ‘I still remember the words: “We believe your evidence is true and credible”. I felt like having a party.’
In the wake of Kym’s interview the department moved Ford into an administrative position where he would have no contact with children. No other action was taken. Sometime later Ford took a job overseas where he remains to this day. Kym suspects that the case was reopened because someone else complained about his behaviour, and that he might have moved because of other complaints.
One of Kym’s regrets is that she was always too anxious and emotionally fragile to report Ford to police. She’s hoping that she might soon be up to the task. ‘I could almost do it. It would be hard, I know. My only concern with me is with my bipolar – a lot of stress can really upset it.’
That being said, Kym is confident that her mental health will continue to improve, largely because of the relationship she has with her young son. ‘I think I’m better than I’ve ever been right now. I have Noah. Noah’s seven, and probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I thought that I was going to be a really overprotective parent but I’ve got a really good psychologist and she’s helped me with that a lot.’