In the 2000s, Susanna reported an incident of sexual abuse to the police. She’d been a 16-year-old student attending a performing arts high school in the 1980s when her dance teacher, Ben Hodges, sexually abused her.
The abuse started with Hodges giving Susanna massages. He had told her that she needed massage for a stiff hip.
‘He’d massage my right inner thigh, and he’d be sitting next to me, and then he started inserting his fingers.’ The abuse escalated until one day Hodges exposed his erect penis and tried to insert it in Susanna’s vagina.
When this occurred she’d run from the classroom screaming and crying. She told another teacher, who replied, ‘I can’t do anything about it. You have to speak to the principal’. Susanna then went to the principal’s office and was told, ‘Don’t be silly, he wouldn’t do that’.
Susanna told the Commissioner that others’ attitudes towards her changed after she reported Hodges. ‘No one would speak to me. I was pushed to the back of the class, and the teachers always acted funny around me. But after that he didn’t touch me.’
Susanna said her classmates were invited to a meeting at which Hodges was present, and asked if they had experienced any inappropriate behaviour from him. They all said no.
Response by police to Susanna’s report was, she thought, thorough. ‘They investigated it, and were supportive and professional. I was exhausted, but I felt like they believed me.’ Later that year Hodges was charged with sexual offences. Four other girls had also come forward with allegations of abuse against Hodges.
Susanna also initiated a civil claim against Hodges. The school made a cross-claim against Hodges and denied receiving notification of the abuse at the time it occurred. Susanna underwent seven medical-legal assessments, during which she was accused of making up the abuse. She found the process difficult, but was determined to continue.
In the criminal proceedings, delays and adjournments meant the charges against Hodges weren’t heard for three years. Susanna doesn't know why, but the matter was dismissed by the magistrate and didn’t proceed to trial.
For more than 10 years Susanna had blocked memories of the abuse.
During that time she’d travelled widely, married, and worked overseas before forging a professional career in Australia. However, she’d also experienced mental health issues, and had been hospitalised several times with severe depression.
Susanna said that if the school had believed her when she first reported the abuse, it would have made a huge difference to her life.
‘If they’d reprimanded him, and brought my parents in and provided counselling, it could have all been nipped in the bud – and I would have known what he did was wrong and inappropriate. If they’d done that at the time, none of the rest of this would have happened.’