Layne came from a large family and had a difficult home life. She described her mother as ‘extremely abusive – emotionally, physically, mentally’ and her father as ‘just a passive nobody’.
During her high school years she was sexually abused by Ms Guthrie, one of the teachers.
‘She did concentrate more on those who were vulnerable. Coming from a home where I didn’t have … any of that attention or love, I was trying to look for it in other places and she showed that kind of love.’
Guthrie began grooming Layne when she was in Year 11 by showing her special attention, taking her out of class for a chat and inviting her to her house. Layne said other girls would notice the attention and get jealous.
‘You couldn’t help being pulled in by her charisma and you wanted her to like you, you wanted the attention from her.’
She said the attention became physical, with an arm around her leg, then rubbing her leg, and ‘before you knew what was happening it went from that to proper abuse’.
It happened frequently, both at Guthrie’s home and in her office at the school.
‘Once she got me in, I would say into the web, like I was a victim and she knew that I wouldn’t turn against her, then she would kind of do want she wanted.’
Layne said there was nobody she could tell – not even her parents because of the situation at home. The abuse continued until the end of high school and for the following year.
Layne then entered into an arranged marriage. Just before the wedding, she sent Guthrie a message that she was planning to tell people what had happened. The teacher threatened her and Layne said nothing.
She moved away with her husband but the marriage didn’t last. In the meantime, other instances of abuse had come to light and Guthrie went overseas before any charges were laid.
Layne saw a psychologist and disclosed the abuse. She also entered a new relationship and, in her early 20s, was encouraged by her partner to make a statement. That was the first time the police became aware of Guthrie’s activities.
Layne said her decision to speak out was not received well among the school community.
‘The only reason that was really stopping me was the fact that the community would shun me but they had already shunned me so much after I was divorced … that it no longer mattered. All that mattered was that this was affecting my life so much that I wanted to do something about it.’
She initiated a civil case and received financial compensation, but the police case has taken much longer. When she spoke with the Commissioner, criminal proceedings against Guthrie were still underway.
Layne was diagnosed with major depression and she receives regular counselling. She is no longer in contact with her parents but is extremely close to her siblings, who know about the abuse and are very supportive.
She said the fact that she had nobody she could talk to at the time was a significant factor in the abuse continuing for so long.
‘If there was actually someone, like a counsellor, or someone in the school you could turn to, to talk to about this kind of stuff, and they encouraged talking, then this could have been stopped … We had no knowledge about sex and about that kind of stuff. Whatever she said, she said I’m doing this for you, so we just believed her.’
Layne said the school community is so reluctant to talk about what happened that if a similar situation occurred, she believes the response would be the same.
‘I think it would be washed under the carpet, the person would be flown to another country and it would be the end, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it has happened again.
‘I think the school, they’re just running it the same way and they’re just hoping that if it does happen again that it won’t get found out.’