‘He was a victim of his teacher, but we were victims of the school. It was one of the most stressful things I’ve had to do because I felt as though I was the worst thing that could happen to them. They just didn’t want to know about it.’
Lilly came to the Royal Commission on behalf of her son, Reece. At the time of her private session, Reece was 19 years old. He attended a private school and was groomed by his teacher, Mrs Wesley.
Reece had always enjoyed school and was passionate about learning, which delighted Lilly. He first came into contact with Mrs Wesley in Year 10. Lilly recalls Reece talking highly of her and it seemed that she was very popular. She was happy that he had a positive connection with one of his teachers.
However, in Year 11 Reece said he didn’t want to go to school anymore, which concerned Lilly. One afternoon, Mrs Wesley came to Lilly’s home and spoke to her privately about Reece, saying she believed he was depressed and offering to look out for him as he knew her well.
‘I didn’t really get a lot from him and I noticed there was distance between us already … She seemed to know a lot about him, which at the time I thought was a good thing. I was very grateful that she had noticed something was wrong with my son.’
Lilly noticed Reece’s behaviour slowly deteriorate. He was angry and would often pick fights with Lilly and his siblings. Severe headaches plagued him and he would often wag school. Lilly was puzzled by the changes, because she normally had a good relationship with Reece and she felt she couldn’t get through to him.
Lilly booked a session for Reece with the school’s counsellor. The counsellor spoke with Lilly about Mrs Wesley’s relationship with him and thought it would be best for them to continue with it. The counsellor usually let Mrs Wesley intervene with other children, Lilly was told.
Reece’s behaviour did not improve so Lilly turned to an external psychologist as she was worried he was suffering from depression. But Reece refused to bond with the psychologist because he only wanted to talk to Mrs Wesley. Alarmed, Lilly contacted the school principal and told him Mrs Wesley needed to step away.
‘They suddenly went to nothing. He was really upset about that. The only reason I knew [the school] did that was because my son and Mrs Wesley told me that.’
Despite being told not to communicate with Reece, Mrs Wesley was persistent. She approached Lilly and told her that she was upset that she couldn’t see him anymore. Mrs Wesley knew he had an overseas trip looming and wanted to speak with him to calm him.
Lilly let Mrs Wesley take Reece on a long walk at night time and they didn’t return until well after midnight. After that night, Reece didn’t sleep for three nights. Lilly stayed up with him and asked him if he had feelings for Mrs Wesley but he said that he did not.
Shortly after, Lilly took him to the airport and was shocked to see Mrs Wesley there to farewell him. It was then that Lilly suspected that they were together. But Mrs Wesley cornered Lilly and told her that she had discussed Lilly and Reece’s conversation about her and denied they were together.
‘She took my hands, looked me in my eyes and said, “I would never, ever do anything like that”. I believed her.’
Lilly thought her son was safe overseas, but later learnt that Reece and Mrs Wesley were still in contact. Mrs Wesley told Reece that she loved him and that she was leaving her husband to be with him.
For several days after he returned home, Reece was very quiet. He kept to himself, only calling a helpline. After a while he told Lilly what was happening with Mrs Wesley. She had wanted to go away with him but he told his mother he didn’t feel the same towards her. Lilly immediately reported Mrs Wesley to the school’s principal.
The principal had a meeting with Mrs Wesley and her lawyer before the matter was mandatorily reported to police. An agreement was brokered not disclose the matter to other teachers or students after Mrs Wesley resigned, something Lilly did not learn about until later.
It was several weeks before Lilly heard from the police, who then wanted to interview Reece alone which put him under immense pressure. She said at first the police said because ‘there was no sex, there was no crime’.
‘It felt like people didn’t believe it had happened. I do feel a lot of that was because she was female’, Lilly said.
Reece was extremely stressed with the police interviews in addition to his school work. He also told Lilly that Mrs Wesley continued to contact him and had threatened to kill herself. One afternoon, Reece self-harmed and was hospitalised. Lilly felt helpless and was shocked that the school did little to assist either her or Reece.
But then she realised, ‘no one knew what was happening because they weren’t told. They didn’t understand that [Reece] was traumatised’.
As Mrs Wesley hadn’t been charged, she was able to sit as an examiner for one of Reece’s final exams. Lilly reported this to a teaching authority, which took action against Mrs Wesley.
Lilly feels betrayed by the school because it failed to follow its duty of care for her son. The school’s community ‘rejected’ her and her family because no one was ever told what happened. She feels the school authorities essentially ‘wiped their hands of a very difficult situation’ without thinking of the emotional stress it caused Reece and their family.
‘If they are covering it up then it must be shameful. Deep down you know this isn’t right but it’s hard to dismiss and you don’t have the strength to do anything about it … There’s a heavy blanket covering you so no one can see you.’
A few months before Lilly’s private session Mrs Wesley was charged with a criminal offence. Lilly is considering taking legal action against the institution for compensation. She is proud that Reece was able to finish his final exams and progress to university.