For most of Pauline’s childhood she was bruised and covered in welts from the vicious beatings her parents gave her and her siblings, and emotionally scarred by their psychological abuse.
Coming from a violent home, ‘I never knew how to relate to people, or how to form friendships’. In the 1960s she started her primary education at a government school in suburban Adelaide. The principal, Tom Alfred, would call her out of class to his office, sit her on his lap and fondle her. He would also put his hand down her dress and feel her chest. This abuse sometimes happened in the classroom too, in front of other staff and children, and continued for four years.
She felt Alfred ‘very much treated me as [if] I was his pet, and his special, and it was the only form of affection that I had. The only time my parents came at me was to belt me ... So the headmaster’s treatment of me, from my perspective, was just a dear man – although I felt creeped out and uncomfortable – was here’s somebody that thinks I’m special’.
Pauline also remembers another girl being abused in the same way by Alfred in front of the deputy principal, who did nothing to intervene. After she left school she discussed Alfred’s behaviour with several other female ex-students, and learned that a parent had complained about him and he had either left or been sacked.
Later she posted on social media asking anyone who ‘had recollections of any untoward behaviour’ at the school to contact her, without mentioning Alfred’s name, and received private messages about him in response. Some of this correspondence led her to believe he also abused girls at the school he was at before hers.
Pauline has recently been diagnosed with complex PTSD, and has been on strong medication to manage her mental health most of her life. Feeling she is on the ‘scrapheap of humanity’, she lives an isolated life and finds it difficult to fit into her workplace.
Pauline told the Commissioner the abuse has meant she could never experience sexual pleasure. ‘I don’t miss it because I don’t know what it was. But that kind of bugs me, because I can’t even begin to imagine.’
After so many traumatic experiences in her life, Pauline finds herself becoming increasingly enraged at those who abuse vulnerable people. ‘The older I’m getting the more angry I’m becoming, particularly with men. When I got to 50 I made a conscious decision ... Never again is anybody going to put me down or hurt me, and it’s a real men thing.’
It’s only in the last couple of years that Pauline has fully disclosed the sexual abuse, to her current counsellor.
‘After 45 years I found a counsellor who specialises in post-traumatic stress disorder and things like that. It’s taken me 45 years. I’ve seen all the best psychologists and psychiatrists all my life, and I’ve been on medication my entire life, and at the end of my life I’ve found somebody who all of a sudden has just lifted the veil and I can see crystal clear now that what’s happened really wasn’t any deficit [of mine], it was sort of put there by my headmaster, by my parents ... Instead of being formed, I was crushed.’
Pauline finds having to get her GP to write a mental health plan so she can see her counsellor ‘incredibly humiliating’ as ‘I’m not a mentally ill person, I’m mentally damaged’. There is also a limit of 10 sessions per year, which means that sometimes she cannot access counselling when she needs it.
She would like there to be lifelong counselling provided by the government to child abuse survivors as required, and any medication they need to deal with that abuse to be funded so that they do not have to pay out of their own pockets.
‘What I do want to make very, very strongly clear to the Commission is that this debacle has cost me throughout my entire life a fortune in drugs and in counselling. And I haven’t been diagnosed correctly until I’m ready to get off the planet.’
Pauline has ‘been suicidal all my life, I don’t like living, never have’ and has investigated ways to end her life. ‘I now understand how easy it is to euthanise ... You can have a terminal mental illness that you just don’t want to live anymore ... I now know that I can take myself in my own time, in my own way.’