Lotta's story

Lotta grew up in regional Western Australia with her parents and brother. Her father was a verbally abusive alcoholic, who would often tell her that she was a ‘bitch on heat’ and a ‘slut’ who would never amount to anything. When Lotta was 11 years old in the mid-1950s, her mother had enough of her husband's abuse so she took the children and moved intrastate.

Less than a year after moving, Lotta was attending the local primary school when her teacher, Phillip Demmy, asked her to stay back after school to clean the blackboard. Once she was alone with him, Demmy closed the door, pulled down the blinds and molested her. Demmy abused Lotta in this manner repeatedly until the school year finished.

‘It’s 60 years ago … It was for the whole year, so it wasn’t just one occasion. It was continuous throughout that year.’

Lotta never told her mother about Demmy’s assaults, and after a year of being abused by him, she lost all interest in going to school.

‘I hated school. I struggled at school, anything to do with school, because of this. I hated it. I ended up going to the next grade and I struggled. From there was the last year of primary school, then I went to high school. Completely bombed out. Failed completely every subject. Completely ridiculed … There was not one subject I managed. So I had to repeat it.’

When Lotta was 14 she came home from school one day to find her mother had died. Her father arrived to claim the children but decided to only take care of Lotta’s brother and commenced arrangements to have her made a ward of the state. ‘Father. I hate that word.’

Meanwhile, Lotta decided not to return to school and instead ‘put my age up to 15, because in those days you couldn’t work’. After falsifying her age, Lotta got a job working at a shop while her father ‘was making arrangements for me to become a ward’. The family of one of her colleagues in the shop ‘wouldn’t have it, so they took me in’. Lotta lived with this family for several years. ‘So basically I brought myself up.’

Later in life Lotta married and had several children, but the marriage did not last. She remarried, but is in the process of separating.

‘Even in years gone by I’ve had issues where I’ve had other men that wanted to either kiss me or fondle me, or I feel embarrassed by comments that they make. And that’s even happened up until just the last couple of years. And then I start feeling “Did I put myself out there?” … I question why. I did not have a relationship with my father. I lived with his abuse and his comments, like his violence and his alcohol and his verbal abuse. And the comments that he had made, his prediction for me. And I’m thinking, “Maybe he was right”.’

Over the years, Lotta tried to bury her memories of Demmy, even though she experienced flashbacks of the abuse. ‘Sixty years and I guess I’ve just repressed it, repressed it, repressed it.’ She has never reported Demmy nor applied for compensation, however she recently reunited with a number of girls she went to primary school with, and in the process discovered she was not his only victim. Talking to her old friend Christine, she discovered that Demmy had abused other girls. Christine reported him and the matter went to trial.

‘She said that “Phillip Demmy, he was touching up other girls”. And these were Christine’s words. She dobbed him in and then he went to court … All these years I thought I was the only one. So when Christine told me, because I was with a group I had to really contain myself. But it was a sense of relief to me that I wasn’t the only one.’

Lotta does not know exactly when Christine reported Demmy nor what the outcome of the trial was, but finding out that she wasn’t his only victim was a turning point for her. ‘I certainly questioned, “Why me? What is it about me that has attracted him to me?” This is all not knowing I wasn’t the only person. And I question that about my own identity.’

Lotta has struggled throughout her life with feelings of anxiety and worthlessness. The only people she ‘fleetingly’ spoke to about the abuse were her children, and she was disappointed by their lack of understanding. She has never received counselling but intends to pursue it. She is overprotective of her children, has issues with trust, intimacy and a serious phobia of blackboards. She recommends that school classrooms be visibly open so that potential perpetrators cannot conceal their activity.

‘I’ve had issues with self-esteem possibly. Also I’ve had an issue with being in the same room with a man on my own. I do find that difficult. I’ve always felt “Ooh gotta get out of here” and I think that comes back to it … I’m making myself stay in the same room but I really want to get away from it all.’

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