‘It’s pretty hard at 14, because I thought I just had a crush on a schoolteacher. I didn’t realise how much damage it was going to do to me.’
Lorna was attending a government high school in Western Australia in the 1980s when a teacher named Mr Seabrook started paying her extra attention. At the time Lorna misconstrued his behaviour as genuine interest and care. Now she knows that he was grooming her, and her parents.
‘It’s so textbook,’ she said, ‘it’s frightening’.
Within a few months the relationship became sexual. Other teachers soon realised that something was going on. The principal spoke to Mr Seabrook about his behaviour but no action was taken. Seabrook became more brazen, even taking Lorna with him as his date to a party with all the other teachers.
Looking back, Lorna is appalled and bewildered by the teachers’ apparent acceptance of a relationship that was clearly wrong. One teacher even walked in on her ‘naked in his bed’ and still did nothing. ‘It’s insane’, she said. ‘It’s criminal. It’s just horrible.’
Lorna’s parents had their own suspicions and sent Lorna away to another school when she was 15. Here Lorna escaped from Mr Seabrook for a while. He got hold of her again for a few months when she was in year 12 then broke things off completely.
‘He decided to get engaged to a girl, like a proper girl who was old enough.’
Lorna got on with her life, suspecting that there was something wrong with her but not realising that her problems came as a result of Mr Seabrook’s behaviour.
‘I used to steal and I was an alcoholic … You approach and do and handle things differently, which I’ve done all my life. I used to say to my friends, “Why don’t I get it? Everyone else gets it. I just don’t get it”.’
She began to suffer from depression and sought counselling that she continues to this day. But even during therapy Lorna didn’t think to talk about the sexual abuse she’d suffered. She didn’t even know that it was sexual abuse until one day, when she was in her forties, she read the story of a young girl who had also been abused.
‘I thought, I’m reading about myself here. This is amazing … So I started looking at it more and reading about it more, and what struck me was how young people who get abused, when they get stronger and older they realise that that wasn’t right.’
Armed with this new knowledge, Lorna talked to her husband Matthew about reporting Seabrook to police.
‘He said, “But you know, that’s not fair. He’s got a wife now and kids. Do you really want to do this to him?” And I was just adamant that I did. And luckily Matthew stood by me with that. My family didn’t. They were weird. They were all over the place. But he did.’
Lorna spoke to police, who responded with compassion and commitment, eventually arresting and charging Mr Seabrook. He was brought to trial a year later. Then it all went wrong for Lorna.
Instead of focusing on the incidents themselves, the court case seemed to focus on her character. The cross-examination, she said, was so horrible it almost felt like it wasn’t real.
‘The very first things that came out of his mouth weren’t true … I didn’t feel like I was being heard. It was like it was insignificant. He was running the show and he was the star and he had control.’
Lorna gave her evidence via a video-link so that she didn’t have to sit in court with Mr Seabrook. At the time she didn’t feel capable of facing him. In hindsight she regrets the decision.
‘I sort of regret not facing him in the court. I might have felt differently if he had of been found guilty, but he still had power over me. I still feel as though he had the power.’
In the end it was ‘their story against mine … and his story just sat better with the jury’. Seabrook walked free. This outcome shattered Lorna at the time but since then she’s managed to make her peace with it.
‘It cost him a lot of money and he lives with it every day. What else can I say? He knows. He knows.’