Tania's story

Tania doesn’t remember much before the age of 10, and suspects this is because her childhood was not a happy one. Her mother was physically and emotionally abusive and not at all nurturing, and Tania was not allowed to express any emotions. Her father was a ‘mouse’, dominated by his wife, but Tania suspects she was sexually abused by him.

In the early 1960s, when Tania was 11 years old, her teacher Mr Drewe began sexually abusing her. Drewe taught Grade 5 at her regional Victorian school, south-east of Melbourne, and was also her sports coach. He befriended Tania’s entire family, and became a frequent visitor to their home.

The abuse began one night in the family’s lounge room, when Tania’s parents were in the kitchen. Drewe told Tania to sit on his lap, and started fondling her breasts over her shirt. She was uncomfortable with him doing this, and scared that her parents would walk in.

Soon, the abuse became more frequent. Drewe would force Tania to masturbate him, then began raping her. She clearly remembers the time ‘when he finally achieved that’, after which he raped her frequently.

On Sunday nights Drewe would visit Tania’s home, and piggy-back her to bed, telling her parents he was going to read her a story. Instead, he would sexually abuse her in her room. He had permission from Tania’s parents to drive her home after school, and would abuse her in his station wagon on the way.

Drewe raped her the day he got married. He ‘had me in the bedroom … he was very brazen’.

Before this abuse, Tania had ‘never seen a penis in my life’, and she did not really understand what the abuse was. Drewe told Tania her parents had given him approval to teach her what adults did together, but also that it was their secret, and there would be trouble if anyone else found out what they were doing. He threatened that he would kill her, or that she would be taken away and placed in an orphanage, if ever she disclosed.

Tania began wetting the bed, and biting her nails. Nobody ever asked her about these behaviours and she did not inform anyone about the abuse she was experiencing. Drewe continued to abuse Tania until she was 14, at which point she began avoiding him and hiding so he couldn’t get her in his car.

After this Tania fell in with ‘the wrong group’ at school, and was in trouble all the time. She left school in Fourth Form, and became pregnant at 19, deciding to terminate the pregnancy. A few years later she married, and had a child, but divorced not long afterwards. Since then she has had a number of other relationships, often with controlling and abusive partners, and is now on her own. As she always wanted to care for children, she became a children’s nurse, and fostered many kids over a 25-year period.

In the early 1990s Tania disclosed the abuse to her parents and brother. She also wrote to Drewe’s wife, who replied saying that Tania had hurt her, but their marriage would remain strong. Tania was alarmed to learn Drewe had grandchildren, and decided to contact the police. She gave a statement, and the police collected a number of statements from other victims. Drewe was charged with multiple offences, and the matter went to trial.

Tania feels the prosecutor at the committal hearing was good, but the trial prosecutor did not communicate much information to her, treating her like she ‘was just a number’. She was told her charges would be heard separately, as her experiences were the most severe. All of the victims were just left in a room together and not given any support throughout the court process.

Drewe denied all of the allegations and the jury returned a not guilty verdict. This came as a shock to Tania, as the police officer handling the case had implied all along that Drewe would be convicted and jailed.

In regards to the way criminal proceedings are conducted, Tania has a number of suggestions. These include keeping victims informed of what is happening, that the perpetrator sit somewhere out of sight of victims, and there should be support for victims as they enter and leave the building in case they run into the perpetrator in common areas.

After the trial Tania engaged a solicitor, and received a compensation payment. She describes the amount as a ‘pittance’, and stated that it cannot give her back her lost childhood, or the opportunity to lose her virginity at a time of her own choosing.

Tania believes that the unconditional love of children, including the many she fostered over the years, helped to give her the care and affection she missed out on as a child. Despite her positive connection to these kids (‘everyone says what a good person I am’), and her solid relationship with her son, she often feels she has nothing to live for.

‘I’m like the walking dead. I have no interests, I don’t sleep very well at all. I’m such a recluse at home.’

Her mental health diagnoses include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder. She has sleep problems and panic attacks and believes ‘I am a nobody’, even after years of psychiatric care and other interventions. ‘I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I can’t heal. I can’t.’ Feeling lonely and unloved, including by herself, ‘I fall into suicide that easily and quickly’, she has made numerous suicide attempts. ‘I just want peace in death.’

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