When Marise was five, her family bought a farm in Tasmania which the children and their mother looked after during the week. Her father worked at various locations through the week and returned to the farm on weekends. ‘It was a very happy upbringing.’
Marise was a good student and academic achievement ‘came fairly naturally to me. I didn’t have to work too hard at being good at school’. When she was in Year 9 in the mid-1970s she developed an infatuation with Mr Britton, a teacher at her high school who taught ‘the boys’ subjects … He was 12 years older than me. So he would have been 26 when I was 14.
‘Looking back I would say I was in love with him. I was just totally over the moon infatuated with him. And he knew. Like if he was walking past I’d be up watching him walk past, trying to make eye contact, trying to get him to notice me.’
When it came to choosing extra-curricular activities, Marise chose one that Britton taught. ‘It was a way of being near him. And I do recall from one of those days when we were out in the bush … out of view of the other children and [him] kissing me. That’s my first recollection of something being reciprocated. And from either that time on or sometime after that, we started exchanging notes.’
Marise doesn’t remember how it started, but she and Britton developed a system where he would leave his jacket hung on the wall with a letter for her in its pocket, and she would leave a letter for him in exchange.
Because Marise was doing well at school, her mother decided to temporarily move to the village where her father was working while Marise stayed with her older brother. A female teacher offered to have Marise travel to school with her, but when she was unavailable would arrange for Britton to take her instead.
‘She knew full well what my feelings were towards him. And my recollection of it is that she encouraged that I travel with him. And it’s during one of those trips home from school that one of the events occurred in his car.’
Over a period of six months, Britton would pick Marise up in his car and drive to a secluded spot where they would engage in ‘heavy petting’ and oral sex. ‘I was very young, naive. I had no idea what was happening.’
At the time Britton was dating a female teacher and living with a male teacher, both from Marise’s high school. Britton’s partner found one of Marise’s letters in his pocket and presented it to the school principal. That evening the principal arrived at Marise’s home to confront her about the letter. Marise was told not to come into school the next day. Two days later she was required to attend a meeting with the education department where she was expected to provide explicit details of each incident with Britton.
‘I was taken into an office … a long table. I sat on one side and five male members sat on the other side. And I repeated word for word verbatim in very crude terminology. I was not sexually active, I was not sexually aware. We’re talking 40 years ago and I didn’t know anything about sex at that stage. And I had to explain to these five men. I won’t call them gentlemen because looking back it was disgusting. I didn’t have a support person in there for myself. So I explained exactly what had happened and then I believe he was interviewed. I know the female teacher was interviewed.'
‘After all the interviews I was called back in front of the panel of five men. I was informed I would not be expelled from school at this time, but if I did anything else wrong they would have no hesitation ... They told me I was to go home and immediately destroy all evidence. I’d kept diaries and the letters, so I was to destroy all evidence, diaries, letters or any other documents that I might have.'
'After I left the room I was never never to tell anyone about what had happened. I was to forget everything that had happened. I was to have the Friday off school with some invented illness and return to school on the Monday as if nothing had happened.’
When Marise returned to school on the Monday she found Britton had been transferred to a different school. She remained in school to Year 12 and was still a good student, but avoided people and stopped participating in activities. ‘Because I was guilty, I was ashamed. I felt dirty and I thought that everybody else thought that about me too.’ Her relationship with her family did not change ‘However after this all happened it was never mentioned’.
Several years later Britton contacted Marise to invite her for a cup of coffee so he could apologise. Marise told the Commissioner that in the early 1980s the issue of sexual abuse had begun to get public attention. ‘There was much more publicity and people were being charged and being interviewed and that sort of thing. And my thoughts at the time were that he was trying to save his bacon by apologising.’
Over the years Marise has been to various psychologists and counsellors to treat her depression, and told the Commissioner that the events with Britton ‘always come up’ during counselling.
‘It has had an effect on my husband... He doesn’t understand. He’s good with the kissing side of things but the other side of things I find really difficult.
‘I don’t know when it was but one of the counsellors or psychologist that I went to see finally convinced me that I wasn’t to blame, that I don’t need to carry this blame with me.
'That I was a student, he was the teacher. He had the position of responsibility and no matter how much I loved him or pursued him it was his responsibility to do something about it before anything happened. And whilst I’m convinced, I’m still not. I still say that I’m to blame … I guess I’ve come to accept that I’ll always feel that way.’
‘I feel more abused by the education department … They were the ones who made me feel…’
Marise has never sought compensation or notified police of abuse, and told the Commissioner she would not be happy having to ‘go and do it all again, relive it all again’. Since Britton would be in his late sixties now she doesn’t believe reporting him would serve any purpose.
Marise credits her supportive family for giving her the strength to move forward in her life. She strongly believes that there will always be students infatuated with teachers, but when this happens it should be attended to swiftly so it doesn’t escalate.
‘If they are aware of a student having an infatuation that it gets nipped in the bud very quickly.