‘I didn’t keep it a secret from anyone. I would say to people, I had an affair with my high school art teacher … Some people would say, “Oh don’t talk about that”. No-one knew how to deal with it. I think they might have thought I was just some stupid little girl that had a crush on her teacher or something. It was not – it was way deeper than that.’
Tracie was 15 years old when she started modelling naked for Kieran Hopper. It was the early 1980s, and Hopper taught art at the Catholic college she attended in Sydney’s southern suburbs.
Hopper started to groom Tracie in the classroom at first, telling her he could see she was more sensitive than other girls. He said he was always available if she needed to talk to someone, and she could use the upstairs art room as a place to chat with him one-on-one.
So Tracie started visiting him there at lunchtimes. He would show her erotic artworks, and speak to her about them, which seemed to her like an extension of his teaching. He would tell her, ‘“You’re special, right? And maybe the other kids don’t understand it, but I can see that you can” … He’d ask me whether I thought it was pornography, or whether I thought it was art.’
These discussions progressed to Hopper suggesting Tracie model for him. This modelling took place in his home studio, and she would be undressed when he drew and photographed her. Sometimes he would insert felt-tipped pens of increasing sizes into her vagina – despite her objections, and take photographs of this too.
Hopper gave Tracie marijuana, and she was misusing prescription drugs as a way to cope with the abuse. At the end of Year 10 Tracie was asked to leave the school because of this substance use.
She still ‘feels a great sense of injustice that the paedophile stayed at school, but I was asked to leave and told I was a bad influence’.
Tracie moved to another school, but the abuse continued. Hopper got her to model naked at a prominent art gallery, where he was working as a curator. As Tracie was under 18, staff asked them to stop what they were doing.
Hopper also raped her in an art storeroom. ‘I didn’t go there for sex, I wasn’t interested in sex … I was a really introverted, quiet little girl. I wasn’t coming on to him, I wasn’t a slut or anything like that. I didn’t know he would be wanting to have sex with me.’
The stress from this abuse impacted on Tracie’s school life, and she became overwhelmed and depressed. Hopper suggested she move to an art school instead (although she would have preferred to study science), and mentored her through making her portfolio and the application process. This gave him an excuse to spend more time with Tracie, which he used to continue sexually abusing her.
Hopper had given Tracie the impression that he was interested in a serious relationship, and told her he would leave his wife to be with her. Just before she turned 18 he said he was never going to marry her, as she was now too old for him. ‘My heart was broken … I had waited for him.’
When she was 19 Tracie told her partner about her experiences with Hopper. He said what Hopper had done was criminal, and she should report it to the police, but she did not comprehend just how wrong Hopper’s actions had been at this time.
Tracie has recently been in contact with the Catholic Church, and they are paying for her to attend counselling, but has never informed the school of the abuse. A couple of years ago, she made a statement to police, and one of the first detectives she spoke to treated her insensitively. She is very angry at the way this matter has been dealt with by police.
She does not think police have made any attempt to locate other victims, although Hopper has been investigated for sexually abusing children at a community art school, and she knows of other girls he was ‘using’ at the same time as her.
Tracie feels that the onus is on victims to keep pushing the police into action, when it should be on the police to chase up matters themselves. That the police did not immediately offer her counselling when she disclosed the abuse, and that they keep requesting further information when she has already provided a lot of material, has added to her distress.
The abuse has left Tracie unable to trust authority figures, and suspicious of anyone who tries to support her, which ‘makes it really hard to get help when you need help’. It has been difficult for Tracie to let her children attend school, ‘because I thought that that’s where you get raped’. Being a parent has given her a different appreciation of the seriousness of Hopper’s abuse – and in some ways this makes it more difficult for her to deal with.
‘I’m more and more disgusted with what happened. Before I wasn’t, I had a naive sort of view of things. I’m still incredibly confused, but now I have the perspective of a parent, who can see that if that was going on with their child, that it would be a totally criminal matter …
‘More grief comes with that perspective. In fact, it might be better if I just didn’t even think like a mature adult. If I didn’t have my mature adult self then I wouldn’t be able to experience the pain that I experience.’