Margie never knew the names of the people who sexually abused her when she was five, at the independent school she attended in Melbourne. As a result, as an adult she never reported what happened to her. She didn’t see how it could be useful to come forward, she said. ‘There was nothing to be gained, and possibly more to be lost by sharing with lots of people without anything that could be done about it.’
Nor has she had any professional help to deal with the experience. ‘It’s never been something I’ve felt the need to seek counselling about or any kind of professional assistance’, she said. Her husband Ed, the only person she has ever disclosed the abuse to, has given her the support she needs – he’s been ‘wonderful’, she said.
The establishment of the Royal Commission, and news that others had been molested at the school she went to, led her to change her mind. She decided she wanted her story to be on the record – ‘part of the statistics’ – and she wanted to contribute to any project that might prevent others being abused. ‘And that was my initial motivation for coming forward’, she said.
She also decided to report her experience to police. She didn’t expect a particular outcome but wanted her story to be available as evidence in case of any wider investigation. Reading news reports about other cases of abuse at the school made her think that perhaps such assaults were more systemic than she’d believed.
The school was a non-denominational one, with students from kindergarten to the final year of high school. Margie started there in the late 1970s, coming from another school partway through the year. Other kids had established friendship groups and routines by then, and as she settled into her new environment she spent a lot of time on her own.
One of her favourite places to go was an unsupervised reading space adjoining one of the classrooms. She was molested here, by two or three people, who touched her genitals and fondled her.
She can’t recall exact details. ‘I don’t actually remember a lot of that year. I’m someone who’s typically had a very good memory, but for some reason that whole year is a bit of a blur.’ But she believes the people who molested her were adults, or perhaps older students.
‘It was a very long time ago, and I was young, so I have no way of knowing who it was’, she told the Commissioner. ‘I think I was probably digitally raped, but nothing else. I think that they removed my underwear.’
She believes the abuse occurred on multiple occasions, for the remainder of that year and into the next. She didn’t tell anyone about it. She can’t recall if that was because she was threatened or she just decided not to. To this day, she still hasn’t told her parents.
‘I grew up in a very loving and supportive family; my parents are wonderful human beings, and have always supported me in everything I’ve done. And the reason I haven’t ever shared it with them is I know they would just be devastated to think that this had happened to their daughter. And I wouldn’t want to cause them any pain.
'There have been times when it was trying, but I’ve dealt with it and wouldn’t want to share the pain of that with them. It’s just not worth it.’
Her story illustrates how difficult it can be for children to disclose, she said. ‘If I didn’t tell my parents, to whom I’ve been extremely close and can share anything with, that really does tell you something about how children behave.’
It wasn’t until Margie became sexually active as a young adult that she fully realised she’d been abused. Memories of what had happened resurfaced, she said. ‘It was very classical sort of flashbacks.’
As an adult, the birth of her daughter took her back to the experience again, and left her with new anxiety. ‘Having my daughter in front of me made me realise just how awful it was.’ Now, she explained, she has mostly come to terms with it. ‘You can’t say there are good things that come out of it. But an understanding and appreciation of these things can make you a more sensitive person, and a better person.’
Looking back, she sees that the assaults had an impact that teachers with better understanding of child sex abuse might have recognised. Instead, she was simply scolded for sexualised behaviours, such as rubbing herself against playground equipment.
‘With hindsight what would have been good is if the teachers and the other adults in my life had more of an appreciation of the signs of sexualised behaviour – and had had language or frameworks to explore with me what might have been going on.
'I don’t know what impact that might have had on me personally though – it’s a very hard conversation to have with a child … By making children aware of these things young, it might make things more complicated.
‘As a parent, I don’t like the idea of ruining our children’s innocence. So I think if we’re going to do that [warn kids], we have to do it really, really carefully.
'And I suppose it’s strange for me to say that, because had someone had those conversations with me, maybe it wouldn’t have happened. But there’s something about protecting the innocence of children, and of not revealing all to a child about how evil the world is.
'I think the fact that no one did talk to me about it meant I was quite protected and innocent, in a way, for the rest of my childhood – and I really value that.’
She and Ed have talked to their daughter and explained ‘it’s not right for people to touch you’.
‘You can almost see the alarm in her eyes. So I don’t want for us, as a society, to take the risk of those things happening so out of proportion that we destroy their innocence.’