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Lois Wilma's story

Lois has had full custody of her granddaughter since the day she was born to parents who have significant drug problems. Matilda is enrolled in a local high school in a large country town in Victoria.

Lois told the Commissioner that she noticed changes in Matilda’s behaviour midway through her first year of high school. She was becoming moody and slamming doors. She also started making statements about one of her teachers, such as, ‘Mr Walton is a creep’. Lois tried to talk to Matilda, but she wouldn’t tell her what was wrong.

When Lois was called into the school, she was shown a letter that Matilda had handed to the principal. Matilda wrote that Walton had told her that she was beautiful, and that she should smile more. He had rubbed her back and shoulder. She also wrote that he had spoken to other girls in the class in a similar manner, and had touched them as well.

One of the girls involved had issues at home that would have made it difficult for her if the police became involved, especially if they visited her parents, so Matilda and her friends were reluctant to take the matter further.

When Lois contacted the police, she was told by a sexual assault officer that unless Walton had touched a student’s breast or vaginal area there was nothing they could do. It wasn’t classed as sexual assault. When Lois asked Matilda if she had been touched on the breast, ‘she just shrugged’.

Lois told the Commissioner that she was aware of another student who had been touched on the breast by Walton, and who had left the school. This girl’s mother now had a very long daily drive to a school that was not on a bus route. Lois was trying to persuade this student to provide a statement to the police.

Although the Department of Education was contacted, Lois didn't think they took the concerns seriously, as no charges were laid. The school was reluctant to take any action against Walton who, Lois was told, ‘went on leave’ for a short period. He returned to the school approximately a semester and a half later. Lois told the Commissioner that she felt the school just did not care, and the principal ‘was quite cold about it’.

While Walton was on leave, there was no substitute teacher for about four weeks and Matilda suffered repercussions from other students and staff members. One teacher slammed a cupboard door on Matilda’s shoulder, and she ‘put up with a lot of sarcasm’ from another teacher.

Lois told the Commissioner that dancing was Matilda’s ‘whole life’. Some of the teachers wanted to exclude Matilda from participating in the State Schools Spectacular, which would have devastated her. It was only because of the concerted efforts of one teacher that Matilda was able to attend.

Matilda became very clingy after her experience with Walton, and ‘wouldn’t go into the shops and things by herself’. She wanted to sleep in her grandmother’s bed, and told Lois that she was ‘not going to school ever again. You can’t make me’.

Matilda became distressed by comments about her looks. ‘I’m sick of everybody telling me I’m pretty and gorgeous.’ She stopped showering. She cut her off her dolls’ hair. She cut up her own clothes. She shaved her eyebrows. Lois told the Commissioner, ‘You don’t realise the impact, until you’re going through it’.

‘I feel better, like a weight’s lifted even coming here today. Because I’m being heard and I can put my point across. I can put … what happened to her, I mean it’s totally wrong. The creepy “Oh, hello, hello, you’re so beautiful”, you know … whispery, touch feely stuff.

'And I’m really proud of her … for being so brave, and coming forward and stopping it. All I could do was really encourage her for how brave she’s been, and she has stopped this from happening to so many children.’

Lois told the Commissioner she was ‘just trying to keep [Matilda] strong at the moment’.

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