‘Because I have decided to come out and speak out, I’ve been through the wringer, believe me, with Church members and officials.’
Sally was born in the late 1960s and lived in regional Victoria. Her family were devout Seventh Day Adventists and she attended a Seventh Day Adventist school. She was sexually abused by her female teacher for the first two years of her schooling when she was six and seven.
The abuse occurred every day and took place in various areas of the school, including the toilets, the classroom and when the class went swimming.
‘She would sit me on her knee … at her desk and abused me there. Abused me when I went swimming … I always had to get undressed in front of her; didn’t matter what was going on. In the end I got around that by actually wearing my bathers underneath my school uniform, so I didn’t have to go through that process anymore.’
Even though the abuse stopped as Sally grew older, Sally still had to see the teacher every day.
‘She wasn’t so abusive as I got older but she was a bully in that she would still try embarrassing me and pulling me out of class … She was always scheming and trying to get me into trouble with other students by saying that it was me that was trying to touch other students inappropriately, and doing things to other students inappropriately. It was never like that, it was her.’
The teacher had held her back, awarding low grades, putting her in the corner with a dunce cap on, removing her from the class. Sally’s schooling suffered and by the time she was ready to progress to Grade 4, the school made her repeat Grade 3 as they didn’t think she would be able to cope with the material.
‘I could barely read, write, spell, talk.’
Sally’s whole life has been affected by the abuse. ‘I carry very deep emotional trauma from the physical abuse and psychological abuse I went through … That has been another issue too; a lot of people [within the Church] find it very hard to believe that a female teacher could do what was done to me.’
Sally disclosed her abuse to her mother in the early 1990s and her mother believed her.
‘Mum was just flabbergasted. She said, “Why didn’t you tell me when you were younger? I would have taken you out of school”. And I said, “I would have told you when I was younger but there was no ‘stranger danger’ … it was like what teacher says goes”.
'They just didn’t teach that sort of thing at school – what was right, what was wrong.’
Sally has also made a formal statement to the Victorian police who followed up her claims. They interviewed the now-retired teacher but she was never charged.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church has a formal mechanism for people to make complaints about abuse, the Safe Places Committee. But while Sally has sent a statement and claim, she has received little communication or support from the committee or the Church.
‘I still feel very strongly about what happened to me. I also feel that I’ve been unjustly dealt with because my parents believed me, other people believed me, but I just can’t get anywhere with the Safe Places Committee.’
The coordinator of the committee is a member of the Church and Sally believes there is a conflict in such a closed institution.
‘The Church has been very slow to come around on this issue … I’ve had no communication to keep me up to date with what the Safe Places Committee is actually doing.’
Sally has a long history of depression and psychiatric issues that she pins on her years of abuse at such a formative time. She has had periods when she thought suicide was the only solution and has attempted to take her life. She also has chronic health conditions caused by the anti-psychotic drugs she has had to take for decades. She struggles on a disability pension.
‘I myself, I still believe it to this day, like I’m not a whole person at all because of that [abuse]. Still feel dirty. Still feel unclean and still have great emotional flashbacks to it – and nobody knows the trauma that’s involved.’
While she remains a member of the Seventh Day Adventists and maintains her faith, Sally finds attending Church events very difficult. She experiences flashbacks and memories of her trauma.
‘I find the whole process abusive with them. There are days I just want to walk away, but I think if I walk away and leave this undone, then the next person who comes along is going to be worse off than me.’