‘They say school’s the best time of your life', Marsha said when she met with a Commissioner, but her early school years were maybe the worst time of her life. ‘I just had it coming at me from all angles.’
Marsha went to school in a small town in central western New South Wales. She was an only child and her parents worked long hours at their business. Marsha had always wanted other siblings, especially when she started getting attacked by someone at school and needed someone to stand up for her.
In Year 6, Marsha was typing out an assignment in her classroom while the other kids were in the library. Suddenly Neville, a 13-year-old boy, was sitting there next to her.
‘He just came down out of the blue … he said to me I had to give him sex ... “If you don’t, your dad will flog you and your mum will bash you, because it’s been organised with the staff at school”, which I knew wasn’t true. He was just trying to pressure me.’
Marsha said no, and went to move out of her chair. Just before she got up, Neville fondled her genitals through her clothes and said he just wanted to kiss her. She managed to get out of his way. Then he exposed himself to her.
Marsha, who was only 10, couldn’t bring herself to report the abuse to anyone.
‘I felt very intimidated because I knew he was doing karate and he was good at it.’
She also kept quiet to protect her family – everyone knew the shop they worked in - and reasoned that Neville’s family might seek revenge if she spoke up. He was one of the tough kids at school - an Aboriginal boy from a pretty hard family background. Marsha believes he’d had to repeat school because he kept getting suspended and because he had to move around a lot.
Marsha also thinks she may not have been believed.
‘This was around the time of Mabo so of course there was an awful lot of sympathy … and I thought if I said something they’d say “Oh no, you’re only being racist”.’
Neville began a six-month campaign of physical and verbal abuse of Marsha in the playground as well as the class room.
‘He was doing this for revenge, really bashing into me.’
She knows the school was aware of his bullying – she’d been sent to the Deputy Principal’s office, who said that her behaviour needed to improve and that it was as much Marsha’s fault as it was Neville’s that he was punching her in class.
‘Instead of me being the victim, he thought I was the perpetrator … I never got to say a word.’
The fact that Marsha’s schoolmates didn’t stick up for her still hurts her deeply.
Marsha’s high school was a bit better. When she was groped by another older student in Year 7, she promptly reported him and he was at least warned off.
However Neville sexually abused Marsha again in Year 7. He turned around and ran his hand up her leg and under her dress. She didn’t report him and he left school soon afterwards.
In Year 10, the high school ran a program about disclosing and for the first time ever Marsha found herself opening up about the abuse. ‘I came out to them because I just felt comfortable and obviously that was the topic that was brought up. They suggested counselling.’
When she told her parents about Neville they discouraged her from taking any legal action. The police also talked her out of pressing charges. A brick was thrown through her parents’ shop window at around the same time, which discouraged her even more.
The police never told her if they talked to Neville. And that, Marsha says, was the end of it.
Marsha feels like her education was compromised by the abuse. She also finds it hard to trust people, especially men, but thinks she’s doing pretty well. She’s read stories about abuse survivors who’ve ended up drinking or taking their life.
‘I felt that I’m lucky that I didn’t get to the stage where it was really … I’ve been working on counselling and in groups … and it strengthens you.’
She came to the Royal Commission ‘because people live in fear for different reasons and of course it’s an uncomfortable topic but I just felt … attacking people who’ve done it … that doesn’t solve it. This solves it’.
Marsha strongly believes there should be a buddy system set up in primary schools. Lonely kids, and single children who aren’t part of a team, need someone else to stand up for them when they can’t do it themselves.