Marilyn attended a Jewish Orthodox school from age three. She described the school as ‘very, very sheltered’.
‘We were brought up without any TV or internet, no newspapers, all the books that we read were vetted. The whole concept of male and female was something we were not supposed to know about so we were completely segregated in the community … I had absolutely no sex education whatsoever.’
Marilyn said that there were many open secrets in the community, including the fact that she was being physically abused at home, but no one ever spoke up. Then when Marilyn was in her mid-teens a new teacher named Mrs Greenberg arrived at the school.
‘She was a very, very charismatic person. The entire community looked up to her. Anyone would do anything for her … so when she started talking to me around Year 9 I felt very special, especially coming from the home that I was coming from. She was telling me she knew what was happening at home, that she could tell, and she would kind of stand up for me.’
Marilyn was grateful for the support and attention and came to see Mrs Greenberg as an ally. Things changed when Mrs Greenberg approached Marilyn’s mother and asked if she could take Marilyn for private lessons. Thrilled and honoured, Marilyn’s mother agreed and as a result a new pattern set in.
‘I would go to school or her home on Sundays and that’s kind of when the touching started. And then as it progressed and got more she would actually pull me out of class and at times when I was in Year 10 and 11 she would pull me out of class and take me to her home – and she didn’t drive so people would actually pick her up and take her. They didn’t even question that she was taking students out of class.’
At the time Marilyn didn’t dare discuss the abuse with anyone because Mrs Greenberg had warned her against it.
‘She had made some very veiled threats about the fact that she would ruin my chances of getting married if – basically she would disclose the abuse that was happening at home and that would ruin my chances of getting married.’
Marilyn was desperate to get married because she saw it as a way of escaping her violent home life, so she took Mrs Greenberg’s threat to heart and kept quiet. Shortly after finishing school she managed to put her plan into action: she got married, moved away and didn’t see Mrs Greenberg again.
Unfortunately, Marilyn’s new life didn’t offer the escape she’d hoped for. The next few years were ‘horrible’ and she fell into a deep depression. In her early 20s she sought help from a psychologist who was associated with the school.
‘I started going to her because I was having a lot of sexual difficulties and she saw what was happening and she said, “What you’re describing – it doesn’t make sense that there’s not some sort of sexual abuse in your past”. At that point I was still in complete denial … It took a couple of sessions but she finally got it out of me. Actually I didn’t want to tell her because I knew she wouldn’t believe me.’
Marilyn’s fears proved right and the psychologist didn’t believe her. But by this stage Marilyn had discovered that another girl had also been abused by Mrs Greenberg and she insisted that the psychologist call her up. The psychologist did so and then went on to contact a third girl who had also been abused. After all that, Marilyn said, ‘Finally I was believed’.
The psychologist spoke to the school, and a few days later Mrs Greenberg quit and moved away. Sometime later, one of the other girls made a statement to police and Marilyn then came forward and made a statement too. At the time of Marilyn’s session with the Royal Commission, criminal proceedings against Mrs Greenberg were underway.
Marilyn also started civil proceedings against the school, though she wishes now that she hadn’t. ‘It’s gone on and on. It’s absolutely a horrible process and if I’d have known that going in I would never, ever have done it. No matter what kind of compensation I do or don’t get, it’s simply not worth the process.’
But compensation is not the main reason why Marilyn began her legal battle and she has other motivations that keep her fighting.
‘What I’m seeking from the school, much more than the compensation, is for the school to recognise what’s happened and to put the policies in place to lessen the chances of it happening again.’