Natasha Helen's story

When Natasha was nine, her family moved from a country town in Western Australia to Perth. ‘It was quite a shock, actually … Moving to Perth was not that good. My parents didn’t have a good marriage … so it was quite stressful [and] we had to go to new schools.’

Natasha started at the local state primary school in the mid-1970s, at the end of Grade 4. ‘The teacher … was terrific … I was behind in some of my schoolwork … [but] I caught up reasonably well and quite enjoyed Grade 4. And then, the next year, Grade 5 … the teacher was Mr Thomlinson. He was the teacher that was to eventually sexually abuse me.’

Mr Thomlinson seemed nice at first. ‘Everything sort of started off okay, but for some reason, he took a liking to me. I was quite a shy kid … and I think that’s probably why he perhaps spotted me as a potential victim. There was another girl as well that I believe was abused …

‘He used to call me up to [the front] and … he used to get me to come around next to his desk and he started to try to fondle my vagina area and I’d stand there frozen of course, not knowing what to do. Not knowing what to say, or anything.’ The abuse in the classroom happened ‘many times’, but Natasha never told anyone.

‘I thought that I had done something wrong. I never told anybody in actual fact. Not a soul … I guess the discipline at home that I received was very strict and probably that had something to do with [the fact] that I couldn’t speak to my mother quite comfortably about you know, “The teacher’s done some things to me”. So I think that had an impact.’

In those days, ‘we were never taught … about sexual abuse or anything … It wasn’t something that was ever discussed. Not in any shape or form. Not in my family anyway … But it happened many a time … When I think back now about it, it just makes me cringe’.

Natasha told the Commissioner that at the time, she felt ‘ashamed … There was lots of things going on for me. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was scared. I was scared to tell anyone. I just didn’t really know what to do’.

On one occasion, Mr Thomlinson was driving past when Natasha was walking home from school. He stopped and offered her a lift. ‘I was not that far from home … I know I was reluctant to get in there, but I did … just so silly really … I don’t know. Scared to say “No”, I guess. So unsure of myself … So I got into his car …

‘He actually had his zip undone and he you know, he pulled his penis out of his underwear and started to masturbate in front of me … and then I was just horrified. I’d actually never seen my father naked … That was quite distressing and I … didn’t know anything about sex or anything … as a nine-year-old. So I was horrified at that. I didn’t know what to say.’

After Natasha got out of Mr Thomlinson’s car, she went home but once again, she didn’t say anything. The abuse in the classroom continued. Then, one morning, in the middle of the school year, Natasha came to school and Thomlinson was gone.

‘I remember going up to see the headmaster … and he just asked me what happened and I basically just gave a really brief description … and my mum came up to the school. I think she was probably quite horrified. I didn’t get into trouble … It all kind of just got brushed aside. There was no counselling … no proper discussion.’

Natasha’s mother died when she was 12, so she never had a chance to talk to her about the abuse.

It was only when she was in high school that one of her friends from primary school told her that ‘it was her mother that went to the school to dob him in because [she] had seen something … She saw him doing that to me, or perhaps even to the other [girl] and [her mother] bless her, she went to the school and reported him … and that’s how he got found out’.

Natasha believes that the sexual abuse she experienced ‘affected me in a way that I didn’t know how to behave with men … Because it was never sort of dealt with properly … I think it made me more vulnerable to men trying to do things to me that I didn’t want, and I wasn’t able to say no … It [was] difficult for me to fully understand the power I should have had for myself’.

It took Natasha a long time to realise that the sexual abuse she experienced as a child wasn’t her fault. ‘As a child, when you don’t get that reassurance or that validation, it just … you carry it … You still think it’s always your fault. It’s terrible. It’s a terrible way to think.’

Natasha is only now beginning to believe that ‘I am actually worth something’. Telling her story at the Royal Commission, ‘has helped … I think that I feel like I’m worth more now because I’ve actually told someone about this and you’ve taken notice’.

Natasha came to the Royal Commission because ‘it’s a big deal. It’s a proper government inquiry and it’s … it makes it feel important. I guess it just kind of validates what happened to myself and so many other kids … and it’s real and it hurts and it’s worth telling our story … not to have it happen again to other children … I just want things to be better for the next generation’.

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