Phillipa Catherine's story

Phillipa grew up in a small rural town in Victoria in the 1960s, and attended a local primary school. As a child she was ‘I think, insecure, quiet, not confident … I think I perhaps had self-esteem issues’.

When Phillipa was 11, a new teacher started at the school. There were rumours that Mr Thompson had been in trouble at his last school for putting his hands up girls’ dresses. In a written statement, Phillipa told the Royal Commission, ‘my innocence was wholly intact and I was completely baffled by the suggestion that anyone, much less an adult male, would have a reason or a desire to put his hand up a girl’s dress’.

Mr Thompson ‘made me feel like a favourite, and I had not ever felt like a favourite before … and I quite enjoyed that’. Phillipa told the Commissioner that Mr Thompson made comments about how lovely she was, and ‘in hindsight, I can understand that a great deal of grooming was taking place amid frequent comments about taking me home, keeping me in a wardrobe, or keeping me hidden away, even in a suitcase’.

Things began to change in the second half of the year. ‘I think that’s when he started to say that I was special … I have this sense that he told me he loved me.’ Mr Thompson began to tell Phillipa about ‘men and women touching each other, through their clothes, under their clothes, no clothes on, and finishing with penis in vagina, using words such as upstairs for breasts, and downstairs for penis or vagina’.

When Mr Thompson asked Phillipa if she was developing physically, if she had started growing pubic hair or breasts, she said, ‘No’. He then ‘ran his finger down my chest, across my nipple and he said “I think you’re telling me fibs”’. He told her about erections, intercourse and ejaculation. He told her that ejaculation ‘only happens … if the man really loves the girl, and that we had to test if he really loved me’. He gave her a code word, and ‘when I was ready, I was to come to him and say [code word] and we would go into that room’.

Fortunately, Phillipa’s parents were alerted when some girls overheard Phillipa on the school bus, telling her best friend what had been happening. ‘I felt like I was naughty … like I had been the one doing the wrong thing. Yeah. And sex was not a subject ever discussed in our home … So … I felt the shame from … it just kind of built from there because I’d been involved in something very, very undesirable.’

When Phillipa and her mother went to see the school principal, Mr Thompson was in the room and denied everything. ‘I felt so in trouble that I couldn’t speak. I just cried. I didn’t speak at all.’ Mr Thompson then suggested that he speak to Phillipa alone, ‘to get to the bottom of it’. When the principal and her mother agreed to this, Mr Thompson kept asking Phillipa why she had told, and accused her of ‘telling fibs’.

The principal wanted Phillipa to move to another class, but ‘I felt really distressed about that because that was not my class. This was my class and I guess that’s a sense of that’s part of the punishment if you’re being moved’. Phillipa thinks that because of her reluctance to move classes, ‘maybe they saw that as, well maybe what I was saying was really not true’.

Mr Thompson made Phillipa think that she had done something very wrong ‘and he was very displeased with me’. He had always been a ‘fearsome teacher when angry, and often times students from other classes were sent to him for the strap’.

A second teacher was assigned to Phillipa’s class and Mr Thompson no longer taught in the afternoons. He left the following year to take up a position as principal of another primary school.

Phillipa made a statement to the police at the time of the incidents but she doesn’t think any charges were laid. About two years later, Phillipa was again asked to make a statement, and wonders if this was because he had offended again.

Phillipa told the Commissioner that she was subject to bullying at high school. ‘There was shame, you know … It becomes a weapon for some people, because you know, like within the school setting some students just want to know about it and at other times it can be used as a weapon … so that they can say, you know, “You were lying. You were lying”, and things like that.’

Phillipa was adversely affected by a high profile child sexual abuse case in the media in the late 1990s. The perpetrator was found guilty and ‘in my fragile state it seemed to say to me that what had happened in my case was indeed very wrong and criminal, and that Mr Thompson had also been found guilty. It sent me into a spiral of anxiety, panic attacks and grief which took a long time to get over’.

Phillipa works in the health sector and was prompted to approach the Royal Commission when she was at work and witnessed a client giving a statement about his childhood sexual abuse. ‘I thought, if he can tell his story, I could tell mine.’

Phillipa told the Commissioner that she is aware of how lucky she is that Thompson’s grooming had not escalated, and that she was not physically harmed. She thinks children should be encouraged to tell. ‘If someone tells you something and you’re not allowed to tell, actually, you really should tell your mum or you should tell someone.’

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