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Leeanda's story

‘If I see her I walk the other way. I can’t stand her for what she did.’

Leeanda has lived her life in a regional town in Victoria, growing up in close proximity to the girl who abused her repeatedly in the late 1990s when she was just six years old. Leeanda is an Aboriginal woman. Her mother’s people are from the Northern Territory and her father is Caucasian. At school, Leeanda was a shy child. She was also very tall for her age. She felt different and was bullied by other children in her early years at a local Catholic primary school.

Leeanda was sexually abused by Kylie Norman, a girl one year older than her at school. Kylie was from a local Aboriginal family who had lived in the area for generations. Leeanda feels she was targeted in part because her family were ‘outsiders’.

Kylie would corner Leeanda in the toilet block and put her in a toilet cubical. She would then insert sticks and straws into Leeanda’s vagina. Kylie had a group of friends who encouraged or participated in the abuse at times. Leeanda remembers at least six incidents.

If Leeanda was in a cubical by herself, Kylie would climb under the cubical walls to reach her.

As a result of the attacks, Leeanda stopped using the school toilet. ‘Being young I would get so frightened of it’, Leeanda told the Commissioner. ‘I’d have to go to the office and say, “Can you please ring my parents because I need a spare change of clothes”. Because I was too scared to go to the toilet.’ Leeanda also began feigning illness to avoid going to school.

One morning when Leeanda was walking to school she broke down and began crying, not wanting to go in. A family friend was passing by and saw her clinging to the fence at the entry. ‘All I could do was look at him and cry. He happened to pass the phone through the fence. That’s when I rang my parents and said, “You need to come down”.’ Leeanda then told her parents what had been happening.

Leeanda’s parents confronted the principal of the school that day.

They described the abuse in a very direct manner. The principal responded by saying, ‘Well it doesn’t look good to the other kids to have Leeanda’s parents turn up’. Her mother kept bringing the discussion back to Leeanda, however the principal was only prepared to discuss matters in general terms. The principal did not say that he didn’t believe the allegations. He suggested Leeanda should stay at home for a few days. Shortly after this meeting the principal went on long service leave and there was no further action by the school.

Leeanda’s parents kept ‘turning up’. ‘I can remember both my parents coming and playing with me every school lunchtime and every recess time just in fact to prevent what was happening.’

Leeanda eventually quit the Catholic school and was enrolled elsewhere in a school where she received more support. A few years later Leeanda was sent interstate to live with relatives and complete her education.

Leeanda suffered immediate health effects from the abuse because of the stress and anxiety. These took three years to settle. Other consequences have played out ever since. Leeanda’s self-confidence was shattered. ‘Because of what happened at school I was never one to have boyfriends and go out to parties and do the normal teenage year things.’

When she was 15 Leeanda began part-time work at a local department store, where she progressed from the checkout to a management role. Leeanda was still sharing her town with Kylie Norman, however, and that was a challenge to her at times. She recalls a day when Kylie and her family came into the store and began to cause trouble. The whole store had to be locked down, and customers fled. Leeanda was supported and protected by senior managers at the store and that has helped Leeanda cope.

In recent years Leeanda has met and married a caring man. ‘I had to find confidence in some person and that person had to be my husband.’ She has had a child and admits the experience of raising a little one has made her think about the abuse she suffered and worry about where they are going to send their child to school. ‘That’s probably been the turning point, to bring all this out. To reopen the can of worms.’

‘It’s good to have someone listen. Going back to the time that it happened no one actually took the time to listen … To me it feels like it’s getting dealt with, sometime down the line.’

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