Growing up, Sheryl ‘had everything money could buy’ but was ‘lacking the things that really mattered’. Her father was ‘violent and abusive’, possibly because of his ‘undiagnosed depression’.
In the early 1980s Sheryl was in Year 5 at a government primary school in Tasmania when she and other girls in her class were made to stand at their desks while teacher, Philip Ryan, walked around and pressed his erect penis against them. This happened often and the girls talked about it out of class.
None of them told their parents or other teachers what Ryan was doing, and only many years later did Sheryl find out her sister had been raped by Ryan on a school camp.
At around the same time as Ryan was her teacher, Sheryl was raped by a boy known to her family. He was two years older and she told no one about this either, putting it out of her mind to the extent that memories of both the rape and Ryan’s behaviour only surfaced when she was an adult.
In the early 2010s, Sheryl found out Ryan was working interstate in a job that potentially brought him into contact with children. She made a statement to Tasmania Police about him as well as the boy who’d raped her.
She’d also told others. ‘I tell anyone and everyone because I’m into naming and shaming these days.’
A good student in early primary school, by Year 6 Sheryl had started ‘acting out’.
‘Then by the time high school came around I got anorexia and bulimia’, she said. ‘I got anorexia to the point of losing my periods. Mum took me to a doctor about it. I hated myself. I had low self-esteem big time. My grades dropped off, like I was shocking at school. And I was smart. I was a very intelligent kid, and I just didn’t do anything.’
At 16, Sheryl ‘took off from home’.
‘I actually went to Sydney and did some prostitution for a couple of weeks. And I don’t even know why I did it. I just don’t know. I really don’t know why I did it. I did say no to drugs though, ‘cause I remembered a Dolly magazine and a picture of a heroin addict and I was just too scared to do it.’
Returning to Tasmania, Sheryl married and had children. She and her family later became ‘involved in a cult’ from which they extricated themselves only after many years.
In the process of seeking support after leaving the group, Sheryl sought counselling for herself and the family. She was upset when one of her children made reference to her speaking about the sexual abuse.
‘My son said one day, and this makes me very ashamed, but he said, “Mum, it’s all you ever talk about”. He said, “Please stop”.’
Since hearing this, she’d been conscious of trying not to talk about it so often.
Sheryl described herself as always having been highly vigilant around her children, and had ‘never ever’ let them ‘go away for the night’.
Recently, however, she’d felt ‘hurt’ to think about ‘what I was doing to my kids’ and she let her daughter go on a school camp.
‘I feel like I’ve dedicated myself to my kids and protected them.’