Lisa's story

Ray Newman, Lisa's Grade 1 teacher at a Christian, non-denominational school in Melbourne, started sexually abusing her in the 1980s, when she was six years old. Despite Lisa reporting the abuse to other teachers, Newman remained teaching at the school until his retirement six years later.

Lisa told the Commissioner that Newman abused many boys and girls, but seemed to target her more than other students. He would take her from the classroom to an adjoining room and recite sexually explicit stories, which he then had her write out. He also removed Lisa’s underwear and fondled her genitals. If she complained, she was beaten repeatedly. Newman continued this pattern of abuse for the three years he was Lisa’s class teacher, and sought her out for further abuse from Grade 4 onwards. Each year, Lisa would ask to be placed with a different teacher.

‘I’d be screaming and crying, saying “Please, please”, but they’d still put me in his class.’

Newman told Lisa that she’d be taken away from her mother if she told anyone about the abuse, and made her sign a statement that she wouldn’t. Despite this, Lisa repeatedly reported Newman’s behaviour to other teachers. Several times she was called to meetings where a group of men she thought to be senior church and teaching staff asked her to tell them details about the abuse.

They told her that her mother had been informed about the abuse and had chosen not to do anything or attend the meetings. Lisa’s mother was shocked when the abuse was disclosed to her many years later.

At the meetings, Lisa also reported her knowledge that other boys and girls were being abused by Newman. She told them that girls were made to sit between Newman’s legs during class while he rubbed his erect penis on them. If a girl asked to go to the toilet, she’d be told to stand and urinate on the floor beside her desk. Newman would then take the girl’s underwear, wash it and hang it up in the classroom. ‘Sometimes there’d be 10 or 11 pairs of girls’ knickers hanging there.’

Lisa said she felt believed by the staff, but thought they didn’t know what to do. ‘I don’t think they wanted to deal with it. It was a Christian school and they seemed to want to protect themselves and the school’s image.’

In the 2000s, Lisa’s sister became aware that Newman was suspected of sexual offences against children. Lisa disclosed her own experience of abuse to her sister and other family members. They informed Victorian Police and, after investigation, Newman was charged and convicted.

Lisa was disappointed with the sentence, and that the judge hadn’t let her read out her victim impact statement. ‘She said it wasn’t important. It took a lot for me to write it and I wanted to read it out. I wanted them to know what effect the abuse had had on me.’

Lisa then joined with over 60 others in a civil claim against the school. When the matter reached mediation about seven years later, only five people remained as litigants. Lisa was awarded $250,000 including $88,000 for legal costs. She also signed a confidentiality agreement. ‘I felt like they were silencing me again. I still couldn’t talk about it.’

During the criminal and civil proceedings, Lisa learnt that there’d been complaints about Newman’s behaviour dating back to the early 1980s, but that it had never been properly addressed. ‘I didn’t want the money. I wanted the school to be accountable for what had happened. They knew about him before I got there and they let it go on for years.’

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