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Lindy Claire's story

‘It’s always hard to work out how to start. Sometimes when I have had to recount the story I sit back and I think, Days of Our Lives wouldn’t write this. But it is what it is.’

There was a lot of pressure in Lindy’s family to present well after her dad’s death in the 1960s. Her parents had never wed, and as an unmarried mother her mum was under the watchful gaze of social workers. ‘They used to come into the home on a regular basis, check that we had clothes, check that we had food. And my mother was quite frightened that we would be removed ... She used to tell us that we used to have to make sure we kept our room clean, and don’t get into trouble ... I grew up with this pressure of having to be good, otherwise I might be taken away from my mum.’

Lindy grew up in suburban Adelaide and attended the local government primary school. One day her teacher, Mr Dalton, asked her to stay after school ‘because he needed to talk to me about something. And I was absolutely terrified, I thought I’ve done something wrong, this is it, I’m going to be taken away from my mother. And I can remember that fear quite clearly’.

However, the teacher told her ‘he wanted to talk to me about my weight. I didn’t know I had a weight problem at that point – I was 10. And since then I’ve had constant problems with yo-yo dieting, I’ve never been anorexic but I’ve certainly been bulimic and gone through all of those things of questioning my body image and so on’.

Over a period of two weeks Mr Dalton sexually abused Lindy when the two of them were alone after class. ‘The first time was on the outside of my clothing, and then the other times was digital penetration.’ The abuse ended when Lindy’s mother became concerned that Lindy was staying late at school. Lindy said that her teacher was making her stay back because ‘he wanted to talk to me about my weight’.

She was too frightened to say what Mr Dalton was doing because of her fear of being taken away by social workers. Her mother went to the school and had a big argument with the headmaster – ‘and after that it stopped’.

Lindy became ‘increasingly disruptive’ in school, started smoking and ‘taking drugs from my mother’s medicine cabinet’, and was hospitalised after a suicide attempt. Later she began ‘experimenting with harder and harder drugs’. Her mother’s mental health was also declining. ‘I was on my own with my mother, who wasn’t coping well with life. And I wasn’t coping well myself but I felt like I was having to parent.’

Lindy began working ‘and tried to just put it behind me’. She met her first husband and he introduced her to a religious fundamentalist church. ‘Part of that had its ramifications later on which were a bit detrimental, but at the time it stopped me taking drugs and is probably one of the reasons why I am alive today.’ Her second husband was controlling and extremely violent, and sexually abused her step-child.

After this marriage ended Lindy one day saw Mr Dalton when she was out doing errands, and the abuse came flooding back to her. She made a conscious decision that she was not going to deal with the memories at that moment, as she had children to care for and could not afford to fall apart. She threw herself into work, living in a ‘high-functioning PTSD state’.

With her children grown up, Lindy decided to contact a counselling service, and for the first time she disclosed the abuse by Mr Dalton. She made a report to police, who were very supportive. Mr Dalton was charged and the matter was scheduled to be heard in the magistrate’s court.

‘I was prepared to go through what needed to happen. I’d briefed my family and they were prepared to stand by me, that this might be public, that there might be backlash from it ... The opposition would try and make me look like I was a liar and everything else. I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was to then not be believed by the lawyer who was working for the police department.’

At that time South Australia police were using lawyers instead of police prosecutors to clear a backlog of cases. Lindy was assigned a young, inexperienced lawyer, who grilled her repeatedly about whether she had identified the right teacher, asked how she would feel if the wrong person was convicted and what this would do to him. He didn’t seem sympathetic at all to the impacts the abuse had had on her.

Lindy was surprised at this attitude coming from a young lawyer. ‘I always thought that if I was going to face a problem it would be with some of the old stalwarts of the police department, not somebody who would have come through an education system and a university system and an introduction training system where this is so high on the agenda and still face that backlash.’

Although Lindy and the investigating officer wanted to go through with the case, and the DPP had been happy with it previously, at the last minute this lawyer decided there was a low chance of a successful prosecution and had the matter removed.

After this Mr Dalton sent Lindy a letter demanding an apology and money. He also threatened her with a defamation claim. Despite reporting this contact to police, Dalton continues to stalk Lindy on social media.

Lindy lodged a complaint with the police ombudsman about the matter being dropped, and an investigation was carried out. It was explained that the lawyer she had been given decided to pull the case while her managers were both on leave, and this had been signed off by another manager late on a Friday afternoon. The ombudsman investigators agreed that this manager would not have had time to read the file and make an informed decision, but nevertheless due process had been followed as a signature had been obtained.

These recent experiences were re-traumatising for Lindy – she lost her confidence, has nightmares and sleeping problems, and is now on medication to help manage her mental health. She is conscious of the implications of the matter being dropped, not just for herself, but for other victims who may not have spoken up.

‘I didn’t expect that I was necessarily going to win, or that he was going to be convicted. I thought that I would have my day in court, that he would have to face me, and that it would be documented and hopefully then if there was anyone else [abused by Mr Dalton] they would also have the chance to know that this was out there ... I know that if someone says, “Gee this happened to me”, it gives you an incredible amount of legitimacy and power to step up ... I’m always conscious that someone goes first.’

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