At home Rosa was subjected to severe violence by her father and brothers. As a way of getting away from the chaos, at age 12 she started going to Sunday school and youth group at her local community church in Tasmania. She was grateful for the interest John Davidson, one of the lay preachers, took in her and whenever he asked, she’d wait for him after services and youth group.
For four years from the late 1980s, Rosa was sexually abused by Davidson on numerous occasions. He told her that she wasn’t to tell anybody about their ‘special friendship’ because it was private. Despite his threats, Rosa disclosed the abuse to her mother who called her ‘a slut’, and said she ‘deserved it’.
The abuse ended when Rosa ran away at the age of 16 and lived with a family who wouldn’t allow her to go to the church. However, Davidson continued to pursue and stalk her at home and work. ‘He just wouldn’t let go of me. I think he became obsessed. To be still looking for me when I was 25, there’s something wrong.’
In the 2000s, Rosa rang Tasmania Police to report the abuse by Davidson. She found this contact and a visit soon after by a constable very positive.
‘She was a real credit to the police. She was understanding, tough, but she knew what she was talking about.’
At the time, Davidson was working in the field of education, and police acted quickly to charge and prevent him having further access to children.
Rosa told the Commissioner she was disappointed that after her initial positive experience, the matter became drawn out and took three years to get to court. During this time, she’d become severely depressed and had been admitted several times to a mental health care facility. She’d often thought of taking her own life.
‘The three years leading up to the court case were very difficult. My relationship had broken up because I’d become so consumed with getting to court and making sure he’d be found out and I’d get justice.’
Eventually, Davidson was also charged with sex offences against two other girls. Other complainants had come forward but the protracted court process had led to them discontinuing action.
In the intervening years, Rosa had been told she could give evidence via video link but on the day of the hearing she was told she’d have to appear in person in an open court. Davidson’s friends, family and church colleagues were in the public gallery and were vocal and intimidating, ‘high-fiving’ each other during Davidson’s barrister’s cross-examination. Media reports freely named the women while Davidson was successful in applying to have his name suppressed.
‘Every day of the trial the victims were painted as the guilty ones … It was splashed across the paper who we were. The day he got charged I went to see the editor and sat down with him and said, “You’ve put negative, wrong statements about us in there” … What was reported was only part of what was said. I understand you’re innocent till proven guilty, but what about the victim; do they have the same rights?’
Davidson was found guilty and sentenced to nine months imprisonment, wholly suspended for three years. His name was included on the Tasmania Sex Offender Registry for five years.
Rosa told the Commissioner she hoped the law could be changed so that people who abused children could be named and forced to participate in rehabilitation. ‘It shouldn’t be a choice. And they should remain on the sex offenders’ list forever.’ She said she tells everybody who Davidson is because ‘even though he’s been taken off the sex offenders’ list, I still think he’s a threat’.
She reported that she still had post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, panic attacks and a fear of Davidson coming near her. ‘This man has taken part of my life that I struggle to get back.’
She said she would have liked more support leading up to and on the day of the court hearing. ‘This is a great idea, the Royal Commission. It gives people the opportunity to say what they like, and they’re not stuck in an institutional setting. Something like this would be ideal for someone who’s not sure if they want to go to court or not, to have people to talk to and the support mechanism - listening to them and not the other way around. It would be of great benefit.’