In the early 1980s, when Olivia was in her first year of high school in South Australia, one of her teachers was ‘really mean’. ‘I hadn’t really encountered anyone like that before and he used to humiliate everyone in the class and yell at them, and so it was actually a really horrible experience.’
After a chance encounter with Mr Poulos at the train station, ‘his attitude towards me changed … He wasn’t as mean to me, so I probably dropped my guard a little bit … He was obviously grooming me’. Mr Poulos began to sexually abuse Olivia.
The abuse continued for several years and occurred at school, in his car, on the train and at a number of school camps. Mr Poulos told her repeatedly that she couldn’t tell anyone as it was her fault, ‘because you’re so desirable’.
The abuse ‘never went to vaginal intercourse, but it did go to digital penetration and he made me do oral sex on him and at one stage, he did an anal penetration … I ended up with a tear that lasted a long time’.
At one school camp Olivia suffered a panic attack after Mr Poulos sexually abused her, and another male teacher tried to calm her down. A female teacher then ‘spoke to me in a way that just was to shut me down … “Teenagers have weird emotions” and “You shouldn’t go saying stuff that isn’t true” … I was definitely told not to say anything … I was so scared of my parents finding out, so I didn’t say anything’.
Olivia worked on weekends with an acquaintance of Mr Poulos, who became aware of the abuse. Instead of helping Olivia, ‘he started to molest me … told me, “Don’t tell people” … It didn’t lead to intercourse, but it led to everything else’.
Things quietened down for a while, but when Olivia was on a school camp in Year 10, Mr Poulos once again tried to sexually abuse her. ‘I ran from camp and I hid … for about two hours … I was so suicidal then, but somehow managed to come back.’
During Years 9 and 10 three other teachers approached Olivia and began acting inappropriately. One of them then phoned her and ‘was definitely chatting me up … I think he was just seeing how I would respond’. Another one began ‘chatting to me like a man might chat to a woman in a bar’.
She told the third teacher about ‘relationships with an older man’ but didn’t give him a name. ‘He never got me help and in the end … he pulled me into himself once in a room and I could feel … he had an erection.’
Year 10 continued and ‘I felt like I’d had five months of back to normal, was really in a good place and I had no concerns about Mr Griffin. He was a very popular teacher …’ Olivia had never encountered any inappropriate behaviour from this teacher. One night, she was at another camp and wanted to go home. Because her mother wasn’t able to pick her up, Mr Griffin offered to drive Olivia.
‘I remember thinking, “Oh, I don’t trust that” and I actually kind of went, “Oh, don’t be stupid. You just don’t trust anyone. Of course you can trust him”.’ On the way home, Mr Griffin raped Olivia, ‘and I couldn’t really fight back, because I just thought then, it just had to be me’.
When Olivia reported the rape to the school principal, he told her to phone her father. Her father said they would discuss it when she got home. They never did, and the principal did not pursue the matter.
Olivia began taking sherry to school to ward off the panic attacks she suffered. Nobody noticed that she was intoxicated, and she still managed to get high grades in class. After she left school Olivia felt ‘a very strong sense of “Don’t give up” and I never turned to substance abuse or anything’.
Olivia spent some time overseas before coming back to Australia to establish a successful career. The sexual abuse made her ‘very untrusting of people … I guess it made me strong, but I used to cry a lot and be upset a lot’. Olivia’s first marriage wasn’t successful, and sex was always painful for her.
After Olivia suffered a major illness in her 30s, ‘that was kind of the turning point for me to actually turn my life around. Until that point, I just tried to forget about the abuse … I was just so ashamed, I think … When I got [sick] it was probably the first time that I felt people sort of cared for me’.
Olivia has seen a number of counsellors, which has helped, ‘but I always get to a point where I can’t handle it anymore and I can feel it starting to become sort of counter-productive’. When she started ‘feeling suicidal’, she ‘didn’t want to attempt suicide but I felt at risk’, so she went on a suicide prevention program, which helped a lot.
‘I do have a really good life and I am really happy, but it’s a shame this stuff, like it just doesn’t go … Even when they started this Royal Commission … [it] made me think, “After all this time, why do you really want to talk about it … [Maybe] you just need acknowledgement”.’
Olivia commented, ‘I think it’s good to get the message out to kids that abuse at first might not feel horrible because with Mr Poulos … he kind of became like this friend and … it’s a real struggle the first time you’re touched in a molested way … I remember thinking … “Why did I put myself in vulnerable positions as a 13-year-old?” … “Why did I do that?” … They trick you into being drawn into it’.
Olivia would like to ‘just get each of these people to sit there and … say to them, “Why did you do it”, and “Look what the impact it’s had on me”’.