Linda came to the Royal Commission to speak on behalf of her son Moss who has an intellectual disability and very limited communication skills. Linda suspects that Moss was sexually abused in the mid-2000s when he was a nine-year old student at state primary school.
The first warning signs, Linda said, were the changes in Moss’s mood and behaviour. He stopped speaking and would scream every morning when he had to go to school. There were also physical signs that something was wrong. On two occasions Moss came home with blood in his underpants.
‘I’d taken him to the paediatrician both times’, Linda said. ‘And he’d confirmed that there was a tear in his anus. He put it down to – because my son wasn’t able to tell him or wasn’t willing to tell him we think now – put it down to “Oh, he might have had a bit of constipation”. But it doesn’t ring true because he’s never had it since.’
The only specific piece of communication that Linda could get from her son about the school was that he ‘didn’t want to go back in the room’. Moss was referring to a ‘calming room’ that the school had set up in consultation with Linda as a place where Moss could go to escape the hectic classroom environment. Initially Linda thought that the room would be good for her son. She soon discovered otherwise.
Arriving at the school one afternoon, Linda saw one of the teachers ‘come running down’. She knew immediately that something was wrong. ‘So I went running up. And across the quadrangle I could hear this thumping, huge banging. And I was getting even more worried.’
Linda approached the calming room and discovered that it was locked and the window was covered. ‘I just called out to him “Can you sit down, I’m going to open the door?” And when I opened the door he was sitting in blood. And the look he gave me was just like “betrayal”. It was the most horrible look. I still have nightmares about it.’
Staff explained that Moss had suffered a nosebleed. As discussions continued over the next few weeks, Linda learned that the school had transformed Moss’s ‘calming room’ into a ‘punishment room’: whenever he acted up in class they would drag him to the room and lock him inside.
Later, Linda was having a chat to one of Moss’s special support officers who said offhand, ‘You know that they employed a bloke who lives near the school to put him in that room’. The school had never mentioned this man to Linda and she knew nothing about him. He didn’t appear in the school records. In fact, when Linda took a closer look at the records, she discovered that many things were missing or had been altered.
‘You match this up with his communications book, which is supposed to tell me what’s happened during the day, and it doesn’t match up. And in fact some of the times when he’s supposedly done things, he wasn’t even at school. So there’s things that just don’t match up all over the place and it’s like they’ve gone back and written things later on, and there’s something more to this than meets the eye.’
Meanwhile, Moss was becoming increasingly aggressive to the point where he was having ‘rage attacks’ for hours. One time Linda had to ring the ambulance and get a team of medics to hold Moss down and sedate him. Even while lying in his hospital bed Moss was ‘still pulling apart the bed, mattresses, after they’d sedated him, and they had to go back for a second lot … and as he was going to sleep he looked up at me and he just “Don’t leave me here”. So we took him home. But it was clear after that he wasn’t there anymore. It wasn’t him’.
Linda had to spend the next few months living alone with Moss in a unit because he would attack any male that came near him, even his own brother. ‘We’re just survival now. He’s trying to hit anybody that comes near him. He’s screaming, he’s not sleeping. The first three weeks in the unit he slept under the bed, and if I came anywhere near him he’d just scream and scream and scream.’
During this time Moss continued to go to school but Linda had to go too and sit in the classroom with him alongside his special support officer. This went on for some months until one day the special support officer was absent. School staff told Linda that she wasn’t allowed to be on school grounds without the officer there too. That was the last straw for Linda, she removed Moss from the school.
Linda tried to get help from the police but ‘they said it was a school matter’. Children’s Services conducted an investigation and concluded that Moss had not been sexually abused or otherwise mistreated at the school.
Linda took legal action and eventually participated in a mediation session with Children’s Services. The outcome was that Moss was enrolled in a special school. He had some troubles there and was moved to a second school where he received better support. Around this time a psychologist also helped Linda to provide Moss with non-verbal ways of expressing himself.
Over time Moss became ‘more settled’ and his aggressive behaviour diminished. He is still fearful, Linda said, and though he’s gaining more insight into himself, some of his cognitive abilities have declined.
Linda hopes that other people can learn from Moss’s story and implement practical changes to the various systems that deal with children with disabilities. The risks are very real, she said, not only for Moss but for other children as well.
‘We are concerned that there’s possibly, probably, a bloke out there who has got away with sexual abuse, and probably wasn’t his first time, and probably saw it as a very good excuse, having someone with a communication problem. And is he still out there doing it to others?’