Trina was 10 years old in 2009 when she began music lessons at her Anglican primary school. Her teacher was held in high regard in the Melbourne school community.
‘She was the teacher that all the parents would try and get their kid in with because they thought she was really good … I really liked her at the start. She was really nice.’
The teacher ran the one-on-one music classes in soundproofed rooms, isolated from other teaching areas in the school.
‘Sometimes the classes were in different spots but the majority of the time it was in, like, the most unsafe place it could have been.’
Increasingly, Trina began to feel uncomfortable in the teacher’s company.
‘She spent quite a while … testing how far she could go … she would start [by] sitting on the chair with me and putting her hand on me. Stuff like that … Not actual sexual stuff but it was kind of like a progression.
‘I knew even when it was the early things like that … I felt uncomfortable and I’d scoot over but I also didn’t really know what to do.’
Trina didn’t tell anyone about feeling uncomfortable because she felt that others may have viewed her as being over-sensitive.
‘I didn’t say anything ‘cause I didn’t want to go against how great everyone thought she was.’
In Year 4 Trina’s parents encouraged her to continue her music lessons. She also experienced a number of family tragedies in quick succession. She now understands that her emotional state made her more vulnerable in the eyes of the music teacher.
‘In Year 4, I think she probably also would have noticed that I was even more sensitive because [the tragedies happened] all in a flush … So I probably would have appeared a lot more fragile … From the start of Year 4 it [the abuse] got a lot more [intrusive].’
The abuse escalated to vaginal penetration with objects and it continued throughout the whole school year. Trina attempted to avoid music classes but with no success. Even when she stayed away, the teacher would come and find her.
Trina’s behaviour significantly changed. By Year 5 her behaviour was extreme and her parents were worried. Trina began to see a psychiatrist.
‘I got diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression. And my OCD was really bad. I still have it and it comes up when I’m particularly anxious but I know how to deal with it a lot better. And I’m on medication. I have been since Year 5.’
Her parents and her psychiatrist were suspicious of the cause of her behavioural changes and Trina was regularly asked whether she had been sexually abused. She always denied it.
‘When I first started seeing her … she would bring it up and ask me. And every time I would just bat it down and get irritated that she was still going on about it.’
Her mother pursued the idea that Trina had been sexually abused, but it never occurred to her that the perpetrator might be a woman.
The music lessons stopped after another semester and so did the abuse. Trina began to diminish it in her own mind but gradually, she began to confide in her psychiatrist.
‘I kind of started slowly saying things and eventually I said the whole thing … and I told my mum and we decided to tell the police.’
Trina and her mother went to the local police and were then referred to a Victorian sexual offences and child abuse investigation (SOCIT) team.
‘The [officer] that was at the local station was actually better than the [SOCIT officer]. I told her and she was really kind and said that the same thing had happened to her. She was just really nice … and was like “You’ve done the hardest part”.
‘Giving the statement [to SOCIT] … wasn’t a pleasant experience and I did all of that which took quite a few hours but nothing really happened [as a result].’
She made a statement and the police followed it up with the school who said they were ‘surprised’ as the teacher was highly regarded. When the police spoke to the teacher she denied abusing Trina and threatened legal action.
The police eventually contacted Trina’s mother to say there wasn’t enough evidence to do anything further.
The school assisted Trina to continue her studies by restricting her abuser’s access.
‘I still bumped into her on my way to class and obviously that didn’t go very well.’
Trina’s mother carries immense guilt about unwittingly being supportive of her abuser and her father has a lot of anger about the way it has been handled by the school.
‘They said that it wasn’t true and that they’re not allowed to fire someone if it’s not proven in court … they didn’t really do anything besides that.’
Trina has now moved to another institution to finish her schooling and has become an advocate of child sexual abuse awareness for students, teachers and parents.
‘My parents always told me about “stranger danger” but I never was aware that you should be cautious of people close to you … even when I felt uncomfortable around her I didn’t tell anyone because, why would I? Everyone thought she was really great.’
Trina wants to find ways for children to report their abuse without amplifying the risk or danger, and she wants parents to be more pragmatic about the possibility that their child could be abused. She thinks many parents believe ‘that wouldn’t happen to my kid’.
She also questions the usefulness of current programs like the five finger principle and bullying education, as neither of these gave her a way of talking about or understanding the abuse at the time.
‘Who are your five people you can talk to when you’re sad? … I just never thought about in that context. I always just thought it was if someone was bullying me or something.
‘All the school talk things started when we were older and they were about bullying and … binge drinking and stuff like that.’
Trina believes, if she felt her early responses to the teacher would’ve been taken seriously, she may have spoken to someone.
‘Just feeling … that if I had said “She makes me feel nervous” … that people would have been concerned by that.’
Trina finds herself on high alert much of the time and, because of this hypervigilance, she is often exhausted and stressed. She has difficulty trusting older people and has intimacy issues.
‘I don’t hug my parents … [or] anyone a bit older than me. I don’t sit close to people. Obviously an element of my trust is gone.’
She still sees her psychiatrist regularly. ‘I think that if I hadn’t been seeing people I might not be alive. It was definitely a huge benefit.’