Phillipa Leanne's story

Phillipa grew up on a farm in rural Victoria, and in the 1960s attended a small one-teacher school. ‘I was molested by [Mr Miller] from Grade 3 to Grade 6, so that was from when I was only eight, turning nine … till I was 12.’

Mr Miller taught at the school for four years, and was popular with students and parents. However, Phillipa recalled hearing some of the parents saying that they were glad he was leaving because he didn’t seem to be a good teacher anymore.

There were three children in Phillipa’s grade and they sat in old-style desks, two to a desk. Miller would seat the other two students together, and ‘he … would arrange to sit next to me … He always made sure that I was in the back row’.

If any of the other children in the room turned around, Miller said, ‘“Turn around. Do your work. Read your book … Mind your own business” … We used to have all this … free time, he used to call it. So it was like reading, and this was when it used to happen’.

Phillipa became so stressed when she was trying to read that her schooling suffered. ‘When I started high school, I found it very hard to comprehend books and stories and I really think a lot of it’s to do with that.’

Phillipa told the Commissioner, ‘He used to sit next to me and he used to sort of rub his hand on my leg … We used to wear shorts in summer … He used to put his hand in my pants and you know, whatever, and also inside me …

‘I never even knew what it was. I never knew what sex was. I never knew why he was doing it. Was it because he liked me? Or was it because he hated me? Was he trying to humiliate me? I never knew what it was. It was dreadful.’

Miller also ‘[felt] my breasts and that’. Phillipa recalled one day when she had a round-necked shirt on, ‘he just put his hand straight down … and I thought, “Why?” [and] I pulled away’. He also came up behind her when she was ‘sitting at the desk and [rubbed] himself … you know, his penis … and I could feel that it was hard …’

After the abuse began, Phillipa was afraid to go to the toilet at school. ‘There were no locks on the doors or anything and I knew that if he ever followed me in there, that probably something worse was going to happen. But he never did. So If I had to have a wee, I’d just run in quickly, in and out. Didn’t even wash my hands. I’d go over to the school and do it.’

Phillipa blocked out a lot of what happened, especially when she was younger. ‘I can remember more when I was in Grade 5 and 6, but … a lot of it’s like seeing it from above, sort of … I got so good at [detaching] that I could actually not feel it.’

Phillipa is aware that Miller abused one of her friends a couple of times, but ‘Gail had [older siblings], so in hindsight I think he would have been worried that she would have been more likely to say something’. Years later, when Phillipa asked Gail to go with her to report Miller to the police, she refused, so as not to upset her staunchly Catholic parents.

Twice Phillipa almost told her mother about the abuse. ‘I started to tell her in the laundry and I said four words, but I’ve got no idea what they were now, and she … spun around and … said, “What did you say?” And I changed it because … her response, it was like she wasn’t going to be compassionate …’

It wasn’t until years later that her mother found out about the abuse. The day before Phillipa came to her private session at the Royal Commission, her mother said to her, ‘If I hadda known that he’d done anything to you like that, I would have been in there and I woulda punched him in the face’.

By the time Phillipa went to high school, she was ‘so scared and shy. All this has made me feel so much more vulnerable. I never knew what was going to happen to me … It took me months to get used to going to high school. It was horrible. I really think … a lot of it’s had to do with those years’.

When she was about to turn 30, Phillipa began to suffer from depression and anxiety. She phoned the education department and told them that she had been sexually abused in the 1960s. They told her it was too long ago to do anything about it, and that she should go and get some counselling. They didn’t ask the name of the teacher.

Phillipa has had years of counselling and now sees a psychologist once a month. Years ago, when a social worker gave her material to read, she realised that ‘I wasn’t the only one and there was a lot of other people that have experienced even a lot worse than what I had …’

Phillipa told the Commissioner, ‘For most of my life, except for when I was 30, I’ve just sort of learned to live with it, cope with it. But you know, when I saw … a big ad and it was the Royal Commission, and I just thought, “Hmm I might just take that number down” and then I just rang it … And all along I’ve said, “I’m going to do this, no matter what”. So …’

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