Raquel grew up in a small regional Victorian town with a one-teacher school. In the early 1960s, when she was around nine years old, that teacher was Mr Anderson. He started gaining the trust of her parents who allowed him to drive her to school and related activities, and ‘was welcomed into our family and regularly ate with us or visited us’.
At school Raquel became known as the teacher’s pet, and her classmates teased her continuously because ‘it was pretty obvious he was selecting me’. When they watched slide shows the room would be darkened and she would have to see next to Anderson. ‘He would place my hand into his pocket where he had a hole cut into his pocket and he would make me fondle his genitals. I can remember how hot and sweaty he felt and his penis would be hard ... he would often fondle my genitals.’
The teacher would also take her to parkland a short drive from the school and sexually abuse her there. Recently another girl from the school told Raquel that Anderson used to touch her breasts and make her touch his penis, too.
Raquel didn’t feel able to disclose this abuse to anyone. ‘I don’t understand why I couldn’t tell my parents about the sexual abuse. Maybe it was embarrassment? I battle with that thought. I wanted to tell my mother but I knew what was happening was wrong.’ She does not know how the abuse came to light exactly, but one day the district inspector attended the school and interviewed her about Anderson.
This meeting took place with just the two of them in the room, so she did not have any support. It was an intimidating and frightening experience.
She was ‘grilled over the whole issue ... Nothing was explained to me, and I was made to feel that it was me and my fault, what had happened ... I just remember sitting there and just wanting to die ... Nobody had spoken to me, I don’t think my parents had even spoken to me ... I didn’t know what I’d done, and then I felt that it was my fault’.
The inspector also spoke to her mother at home, and Anderson left the school shortly thereafter. Raquel later discovered he had not been deregistered and had continued teaching in the area. She was not offered any counselling, and the community turned against her. ‘I was made to feel ashamed and it seemed I was blamed in the local area for what had happened to me. Local residents ignored me, they would not speak to me and I was shunned by society.’
Even in secondary school she experienced stigma. ‘Everybody in the district found out, and then it went through into high school ... You could tell that the kids knew, because they would treat you differently.’
When she was in her mid-teens her maths teacher would rub his groin against the girls’ arms as they sat working at their desks. Although her grades dropped, it didn’t seem anybody realised why. ‘It was just gloom and doom for me ... Nobody could really understand, because I went from the A-grade student down to a struggling C ... I really battled.’
Eventually, she left. ‘I blame my early exit from school on these school teachers that committed sexual abuse on me, as they reduced my learning capacity to a fight for survival.’ Because she did not complete her studies, ‘I always like felt a bit of a failure’.
The abuse, and the way her community responded to it, affected her friendships, too. ‘I probably struggled to make friends because I sort of lost all my thought and feeling for friends and stuff like that ... I just didn’t trust any of them, because of the way they treated me ... I lived a pretty isolated childhood really.’ As a teen she would lay in bed contemplating suicide methods.
In recent years Raquel reported both offenders to the police, and Anderson is currently under investigation. She engaged in a pretext call as part of these inquiries, speaking to him directly about what he had done to her. He knew who she was immediately. ‘Yes, yes, I remember you Raquel, I think about you all the time’.
Raquel told him ‘I was only eight years old ... I’ve had issues ever since ... I need closure. Why did you do it? Why was I the chosen one? And how have you coped with living with that guilt all these years?’
Anderson said he was ‘so sorry’, but then ‘he was just full of excuses’. She asked if his wife and children knew about the investigation ‘and he never answered’. At the time she met with the Royal Commission, she had been informed that his arrest was imminent.
Raquel is less concerned about pursuing the maths teacher, as she considers his offending was not as severe as Anderson’s. However, ‘I would have liked these two men to have been named and shamed. These men have been allowed to get on with their lives with no repercussions and the victims are the ones who have suffered and continue to do so’.
As yet she has not made any reports to other authorities or sought compensation. ‘I am angry that I have been violated, I feel used and abused, and I want the education department to know I am hurting.’
Raquel’s whole life continues to be affected by her experiences at school. ‘I have suffered a broken marriage and I struggle to trust men, and have this underlying feeling of wanting to hurt them all. I have struggled with depression for all my life as a result of the sexual abuse I experienced. I have had both psychological and psychiatric counselling. I have worked hard at attempting to continue with my normal life and hide the fact that I am hurting and will continue to hurt until the day I die.’