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Rosaleen's story

Rosaleen came to the Royal Commission to speak about her daughter, Susan. One day, when Susan was about eight years old, her class teacher contacted Rosaleen to say that Susan was in danger of falling behind in a core subject. The teacher, Tim Hensley, offered to tutor Susan on school grounds after school hours.

Rosaleen agreed – 'Who could be better than her own teacher?' – and weekly sessions began. This was against the school’s policy, but nobody mentioned that to Rosaleen at the time.

Susan wasn't so happy. 'She told me a few times that she didn't want him to come for tutoring', Rosaleen said. 'But this was always five minutes before he arrived – I thought she just didn't want to do the extra lessons.'

Rosaleen would later learn that Hensley was sexually abusing Susan during these sessions.

'Just recently Susan explained that, saying she didn't want him to come was her trying to tell me about it', Rosaleen said. 'But she just didn't know how … And a few times she had a meltdown in the car, hiding under the seat when we arrived at school.'

The tutoring ended when Susan started Year 4 with a different class teacher. Towards the end of the year she came home from school and told her mother that Hensley had been making comments about her physical appearance that made her feel uncomfortable.

Rosaleen approached the deputy principal about Hensley's behaviour. 'I was made to feel I was over-reacting. She said that Mr Hensley talked like this just because "he was a big kid himself".’

Meanwhile, Susan wasn't doing well. 'In Year 5 our daughter started to behave out of character. She became very difficult but also very sensitive … She didn't want to sleep alone, coming often to our bed. And she stopped going to sleepovers at her closest friends.

'Also, for two months, she suffered stomach cramps that saw me having to take her to the doctor every day – and left our GP scratching his head.'

In retrospect, Rosaleen realises that this was the time Susan began to understand the abuse that occurred two years before. 'Just recently she told me that Year 5 was when she realised that something happened to her. It was the year that someone made a joke at school about inappropriate stories, and that triggered something; she remembered that "that happened to me".'

But crucially Susan still couldn't find a way to share the information. During the holidays before she started high school, Susan told her mother 'she was stressed about something but didn't want to talk about it because she didn't want people to look at her differently'.

Soon after the term began, Susan started having panic attacks – 'about nine or 10 a day', according to Rosaleen. 'She started self-harming, she had suicidal thoughts, she was not sleeping properly – and she was a very angry person.'

A month later Susan disclosed to her school counsellor that she had been sexually abused by Hensley.

Rosaleen and her husband heard the news. Susan was then interviewed by the police and a psychologist who confirmed that 'she presented with all the symptoms of child sexual abuse'. A detective told Susan to take her time and consider her options – but the teenager made up her mind quickly.

'She said to me, "I’m going to make a statement, because I don't want this to happen to any other kids: I'm okay to do that”.'

Hensley, who had been suspended that year by the primary school for a long series of inappropriate behaviours, denied any sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, Rosaleen and her family had moved house – and found that zoning confused and delayed their efforts to address the abuse issues. 'There are different mental health "catchments"', Rosaleen said. 'Susan has great difficulty expressing herself, she was just starting to open up to someone – and then we had to begin again with a different psychologist.'

Likewise a different detective was assigned to the case, forcing Susan to start a new relationship – and the deputy principal of the primary school, with whom Rosaleen had tried to liaise, moved to a new school, exacerbating a communication breakdown that lasted 18 months.

As Susan's father, Steve, said, 'There are too many departments, it's just ridiculous. Whoever you go to, you have to restart the procedure'.

And then the procedure can grind to a halt: after six months, the police told the family there was not enough evidence to prosecute Hensley.

Finally, there was deep disappointment with the response of the teacher registration authority. When Rosaleen expressed concern that Hensley could still teach in the independent school sector, 'they suggested getting Susan to make her allegations while sitting in the same room as Hensley. I said, "No way!"'

Ultimately, the authority allowed Hensley to keep his teacher registration, subject to undertaking a remedial professional development program.

Susan's parents are disheartened by what they see as serial lapses in the duty of care. 'No one is accepting responsibility for what has happened', Rosaleen said. 'To start with, someone should have picked up the phone and told us, "He's not allowed to tutor her".'

Steve added, 'I believe there's a conflict of interest, because schools are worried about their reputation: there should be an independent body for the student to report to'.

Rosaleen thinks the lapses extend even to Hensley. 'He's sick, he needs help. So what we're doing by protecting him is not helping him, because he doesn't know he's sick.

'Telling me "He's a big child himself" – that's not good enough! He's not a child, he's an adult with kids in his care.'

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