‘It’s a huge weight to wear for years and to know that he’s still out there, educating children, when he’s torn my education apart. I’ve not had one.’
Naomi was born in Brisbane in the early 1980s. Her father was in the army and the family moved around. When she was six years old they moved to a regional town in Queensland and Naomi and her older sister were sent to a local Catholic school. It was there that Naomi was sexually abused by her teacher, Thomas Walsh. Because of this abuse Naomi has struggled with literacy all her life.
Walsh, who was possibly in his 20s at the time, arranged for children in his class to have one-on-one reading sessions with him. When Naomi attended her session she sat in a chair close to him. However, he moved Naomi onto his lap and digitally penetrated her while she was reading. Naomi asked him to stop but he ignored her. The abuse occurred in a similar manner on a number of occasions.
Soon afterwards Naomi told her mother who took her to the doctor. Her mother also went to the local priest, then to the police and lastly she saw the school principal, who was disappointed she hadn’t spoken to him first. However, as far as Naomi is aware, the school took no substantial action against Walsh and he continued to teach.
Eventually Naomi’s parents removed her from the school and the family relocated to Brisbane. Her father left the army. Naomi doesn’t know if the abuse was why they moved. It was not spoken about and, in more recent years, her parents have refused to speak about it, something Naomi resents.
Naomi started out as a gifted student in primary school. She never read a book but, being an intelligent child, she taught herself using visual clues. However, her education was severely compromised in high school. Naomi couldn’t even read the timetable to get to the right class. In her early teenage years she took lots of drugs. She would sit in the toilets smoking or skipped school altogether. She made the ‘wrong friends’ and hung out with people who stole cars. She was living on the streets from 14 years of age and at 18 became pregnant.
Naomi’s eldest daughter is educated and is a source of inspiration but Naomi’s own life continues to be a struggle. In her various jobs she has always excelled, ‘moving up the ladder’. But when she gets to a position where she needs to read or study she quits and finds another job. She also regrets that she hasn’t been able to participate in the schooling of any of her children.
Around 2004 Naomi went to the police and reported Walsh’s abuse. She was concerned that he might still be teaching and recognise the surname of her primary school-aged daughter. However, the police response was disrespectful and inept. Naomi, with no preparation whatsoever, was rushed into making a ‘pretext call’ to Walsh, who was then a school principal, in order to extract a confession from him. Walsh remembered Naomi but was evasive, putting the call back to the receptionist. Naomi then told the receptionist that they are employing a dangerous and abusive man. However, she was ignored.
Ultimately, due to a conflicting account of the abuse provided by Naomi’s father, the (male) police did not believe Naomi. Nor was she informed which school Walsh taught. ‘The way [the police] spoke to me, it was pretty disgusting. And then they shut down the investigation … basically treated me like I was a liar … It made me feel like I was worthless and nothing.’
Recently Naomi left a violent relationship of 15 years. She is trying to get custody of her two youngest children. She feels she lets people of power run right over her. ‘I can honestly say that every person in power that has been in my life has done the wrong thing. You feel like you’ve allowed it to happen.’ She went on to tell the Commissioner, ‘I find it difficult to trust people, and people of power I find I let them take advantage of me … a lot’.
Naomi’s greatest sources of resilience, apart from her children, are her current job, her trauma counsellor and the fact that she got off drugs.