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Patsy's story

As a Year 10 student at a Canberra high school in the early 1980s, Patsy had a sexual relationship with one of her teachers, Gavin Cartwright. Years passed before she recognised she’d been abused. For a long time, she felt complicit in what had occurred. ‘I felt that I in some way had instigated it or led him to believe that I was willing to do that’, she said.

Gavin Cartwright was in his 20s at the time, and Patsy had a ‘school girl crush’ on him. When he seemed interested in her, she quite liked it. ‘I guess in my mind back then I assumed it was flirting.’ After a school sports events one day he gave her a ride home and suggested they go out for a drink. Just 16 years old and naive, Patsy thought ‘Wow, this is amazing!’

The night she met Cartwright for a drink was also the first time they had sex. Patsy hadn’t had sex before. ‘That was my first ever experience, and it wasn’t particularly nice’, she said. Cartwright was ‘quite aggressive’. Afterwards he dropped her home – it was the middle of the night, she recalled.

Cartwright was the second teacher at the school to take sexual advantage of Patsy. Earlier that year she’d been molested by her art teacher, Jamie Masters. He’d asked her to meet him in the art room. No one else was there. At first they just talked, but after a bit he began to kiss her passionately, and to fondle her through her shirt.

‘I didn’t really know what to do, so I guess I played along. It just kind of stopped at that. But it was a good five to 10 minutes, I guess.’

Several weeks later he again asked her to meet him in the art room, and she did. Once again he kissed and fondled her. But when he tried to put his hand up her skirt, she resisted. ‘That was it. I kind of never went back. He didn’t ever ask me.’

As she did with Cartwright, for a long time Patsy blamed herself for what had happened. She felt that going to meet Masters a second time made what happened her fault. Looking back, she wonders why she went. But she also knows why. ‘I guess I felt quite special … that I had been singled out. I wasn’t a popular girl in high school … He sensed that as well, he sensed my insecurities.’

Patsy had sex with Cartwright about four times. On one occasion, at his home, he photographed her naked in his bedroom. ‘God knows what’s happened to those pictures.’

He advised her to go on the pill. Her mother organised this for her. Patsy believes her mother knew what was going on but years later her mother denied it. A couple of Patsy’s friends knew she was seeing Cartwright – ‘they were like “Oh, wow, you’re so lucky”’ – but she didn’t tell anyone about the sex.

Cartwright told her he’d give her an A in her school report. The art teacher, Jamie Masters, had also promised her an A.

Eventually, the relationship ended. Patsy doesn’t know why. She left school at the end of that year, and regrets now that she didn’t finish her schooling. That was just one consequence of her experiences.

‘I think for a long time – years – following that I became very promiscuous, because I used to think that love equated to sex. And I guess I was looking for that validation and it just affected my self-esteem and my self-worth, and I didn’t think I deserved to be truly loved, [because] I had been damaged, in a way. And I just made such bad choices in men that I was with, because I didn’t have confidence or self-esteem or self-worth. In later years that manifested into an eating disorder as well. It just seems all to be linked, I think, in how I feel about myself.’

She still feels that way, she said.

‘I do. I’m trying not to but it’s a hard pattern to get out of’, she said. ‘I still have an eating disorder and I still have trust issues.’

Patsy has not reported her abuse to police, and has not sought compensation. As far as she knows, Cartwright has left the school system and now has another career. Patsy has children herself now, and welcomes the sex education they’ve received at school. She believes a broader education, looking at issues of self-esteem and self-worth, would have helped her. ‘It all starts with education’, she said.

She has been seeing a psychologist for several years and has anxiety and depression, for which she takes medication. She is still trying to accept that she was not to blame for what happened, and that the severity of the impact she’s experienced is normal.

‘I think I just have to believe that’, she said.

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