From the age of five Suzanne was bullied and abused at school and in sporting clubs. ‘It just kept happening over and over and over again. Primary school, then high school. As an adult. Total strangers, teachers and no one did anything … People did it behind closed doors … but some of it was quite visible, you know, and no one did anything.’
Now, in her 40s, she is still wondering why and how it was that no one intervened.
In primary school Suzanne’s class used to go to the pool for swimming training. One of the male instructors used to hold her underwater until she gagged, and this happened in full view of everyone including other teachers.
Afterwards the man kept Suzanne back in the female change rooms and sexually abused her. While doing it he would tell her she was disgusting and a bad person. She would then get into trouble for being the last one back on the bus.
At high school, Suzanne was subjected to extreme and relentless bullying from fellow students both in and out of class. Her lunch and school bag were regularly stolen. She was urinated on and spat at, and her head was flushed in the toilet. She was sometimes bullied by teachers as well, as she was considered slow. Suzanne had a learning difficulty which wasn’t diagnosed until she went to university in her early 30s.
Suzanne was in her early teens the first time she was raped by other students. It happened at lunch time on the school grounds.
As she recalled in a written statement, ‘The assault was spread around the school as student gossip and I started self-harming by cutting my stomach and my arms as a way of trying to cope with the distress and shame that I was experiencing. I would also swallow pills that I had taken from my home, the school sick bay and other people's houses because my distress was so extreme that I wanted to die’.
On another occasion she was gang raped by a group of boys and girls. Suzanne found out later they did it for a five dollar bet. Another time a group of boys pinned her down and set fire to her pubic hair.
‘I was a nice kid. I mean, why? Why? Why?’
Suzanne feels certain that the teachers knew about the abuse, but no one stopped it. Sometimes, when she fought back and attacked her abusers, she noticed that she was never punished.
‘I remember [some] teachers being really kind to me and I will cherish that, you know, but really they didn’t do enough. And I was kind of always made to believe or feel that I should be grateful for any sort of kindness that people showed me. Not because I was a sweet, innocent child but because I didn’t deserve it in the first place.’
Suzanne joined a girls’ community group and went door knocking in the neighbourhood, doing odd jobs for people. One person she visited, Dennis Walker, sexually abused her from the age of about 11 to 15. After the abuse she continued to odd jobs like cleaning for him. Although she was scared of Walker, she kept going to fulfil her duties in the group.
The abuse only stopped when some parents told her not to visit him anymore. Suzanne later found out Walker was a known paedophile. As she told the Commissioner, she should never have been doing the work unsupervised.
After growing up in a strict family in a small town in Victoria, she was too frightened to tell her mother about any of the abuse in case she got into trouble.
As an adult Suzanne hates what the abuse has done to her. She feels she is taken advantage of ‘because no one would want you if you say “No”’.
She always wanted to get married and have children but remembers thinking, when she was about eight, that this wouldn’t happen because no one would want her. However, she works with children and enjoys that, and sometimes volunteers overseas as well.
Suzanne thinks it’s unlikely she will apply for compensation because it would bring all the abuse back to the surface. She had a bad experience once when applying for victims of crime compensation in relation to an assault she experienced as an adult.
The magistrate at the time said that because she’d suffered PTSD due to earlier abuse, being assaulted as an adult wouldn’t have added to her trauma. As Suzanne said in her statement, ‘This made me feel very angry and distressed. I left the court feeling small and insignificant and like I had not been heard’.
Suzanne has accessed support services and takes long walks every day.
‘I don’t expect people to fix things or make things better for me because they can’t. I have to do it myself. I have the support of good people to help me so I don’t end up going, you know, completely loopy. And I can have some of life’s enjoyments.’
But still, Suzanne is perplexed about how all this came to be. ‘I would like to know why.’