‘During silent reading, Mr Harrison would squat down beside me with his right arm resting on my chair. He would then molest me, running his hands over my body; he would touch my breasts and move down to my inner thighs.
‘I can’t remember him touching my genitals but remember the abuse made me aware of my genital area. The other children could not see what was happening due to the location of my desk. I remember the abuse making me aware of my sexuality and I began pleasing myself and masturbating. I also remember feeling repulsed because I knew it was wrong.’
Mr Harrison was a relief teacher at Prue’s Tasmanian state primary school in the early 1980s, and sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions when she was in Year 5.
Prue’s parents had separated and she didn’t feel she could tell anyone in her family about the abuse. ‘I felt like a burden to my mother and thought she had enough on her plate ... My father was too busy ... I thought it would break my grandmother’s heart if I told her.’
She altered her behaviour and appearance in an attempt to become less attractive. ‘I have lived with eating disorders including anorexia. I would often overeat and hated the way I looked. I cut off my hair after the sexual assaults by Mr Harrison. I thought if I looked like a boy Mr Harrison wouldn’t come near me. I hid behind the tomboy thing because being a girl wasn’t safe.’
In the late 1990s it became known that Mr Harrison had sexually abused other children. Prue overhead her mother telling a friend ‘“If anything happened to Prue she would have told me.” This made me clam up even more ... In 2000 when I did tell my mother she didn’t believe me’.
When she met with the Commissioner, Prue discussed the impacts of the sexual abuse on her mental health. ‘I read a lot, and complex PTSD would be me ... I’ve got this one thing wrong with me, that causes all this stuff. I don’t just have anxiety one day, depression another day.’
While at school Prue lost her enjoyment of learning (even in subjects she loved), became rebellious, and did not complete her education. She lost her virginity in Year 8, and her teens and early 20s were full of partying and heavy marijuana consumption.
‘Promiscuity became an issue for me. I thought that’s what I had to do, to be liked, to get attention and affection. I was in and out of relationships. In approximately six months I would be over the sex because that wasn’t what I really wanted. I really wanted companionship, comfort, safety and security ... I am unable to enjoy physical affection or intimacy with my partner which I know is a problem for him. I don’t enjoy sex and have always struggled with physical intimacy in long term relationships.’
A number of her relationships have been dysfunctional and violent. ‘Conflict has been a factor of my relationships with close friends and partners in the past and conflict continues to be a factor in my current relationship. Trust is an issue between me and my partner, I don’t trust him and I don’t think I ever will.’
Prue finds it hard to control her anger at times, but ‘it’s not just anger which has ruined my life. It’s the feeling of nothing, a feeling of being numb, dead. The feeling is in my brain and chest, it’s like there’s bricks on my chest and shoulders’.
‘I could never hold a job. My head was going around and around, nothing in my head was stable enough for me to be settled. I felt nothing, felt dead and constantly questioned and doubted myself. I felt like I never fit in.’
Prue’s young child, grandmother (now deceased), and GP have all been sources of resilience and support. ‘I believe the birth of my daughter saved me. My love for my daughter has given me the motivation to make positive changes in my life so I can be the best possible parent.’ She is aware that she can be hypervigilant as a parent, even fearing she could hurt her child herself. ‘For a time I lived with a feeling of fear that I could turn into a child abuser because I had been abused.’
In the late 1990s Mr Harrison was given a custodial sentence for earlier sexual offences against children at another school. During the early 2000s Prue reported Mr Harrison to police at two different locations.
In the first instance, she was ‘brushed off’ at an interstate police station. ‘I felt they didn’t take me seriously and they didn’t believe me. I felt like I was the one who had done something wrong. I felt they just wanted it over and done with to get me out of their hair.’ It was only after intervention from a retired police officer she knew that she was even given the chance to make a statement.
The second time she reported, in Tasmania, was more positive. ‘The policewoman who took my statement was respectful and kind. However, I still found the questioning to be intimidating, interrogative and intrusive and I found it difficult to remember the exact facts.’ Mr Harrison gave a ‘no comment’ interview and ‘I was advised the DPP had decided not to proceed’.
Prue now intends to approach police again, and is also investigating her civil options. ‘What he did to me affects me all day every day of my life. There’s not one single thing, one thing in my life, that he hasn’t affected. Not one.’