Valerie was born into a small family in Western Australia in the mid-1930s. She had hearing problems from a young age and attended a private medical practice to receive a hearing aid.
In the late 40s, when she was in her early teens, Valeria went to the practice for a new hearing aid. Doctor Hank Johnson took her into his room for the appointment.
‘He locked the door after I entered … He kept telling me to remove various items of clothing which I did. I knew that it was okay to remove clothing for a doctor so I didn’t realise it was wrong.’
Valerie was asked to sit down on the table, not knowing what Johnson wanted. She said Johnson then asked her to remove her underwear before he fondled and digitally penetrated her. Valerie recalls feeling ‘aroused’ but didn’t understand what that meant or what was happening. Johnson then reached for his own trousers.
‘He said, “Gee, you’re a big girl. I reckon I could fit you in myself”. At this point he began undoing his zip on his trousers.’
Valerie ‘panicked’ and kicked and scratched at Johnson. She explained that she ‘didn’t know what to do’ but couldn’t sit there and be still. Johnson then let go of Valerie, let her put her clothes back on and she left. She was upset and confused by what had occurred because she didn’t know what it was.
When she got home, Valerie told her mother about the abuse. She was hoping that her mother would support her, but was told not to say anything. Valerie’s mother said it would be her word against Johnson’s. She felt that her mother didn’t really believe her and perhaps others wouldn’t either. Valerie obeyed her mother and kept silent for several decades.
In her late teens, Valerie returned to the same practice to receive another hearing aid. Johnson was still working there and she was surprised to see him. When Valerie was taking off her clothes, he walked in and began to help her. This time, however, Valerie said that she could manage ‘taking off’ her own clothes and Johnson refrained from touching her further. After the appointment, Valerie never saw him again.
Throughout her teenage years and adulthood, Valerie has felt ‘rejected’. She has suffered from depression and has been admitted to several psychiatric wards. She had electroconvulsive therapy and now ‘survives’ on antidepressants.
It wasn’t until the late 90s that Valerie disclosed the details of the abuse to her older sister. She said that she never had the confidence to report it to anyone else because her mother didn’t support her when she was younger. Valerie’s sister told her to ‘get over it’ because ‘it happened a long time ago’, which upset her.
Coming to the Royal Commission was the first time Valerie had disclosed the abuse to an authority figure. She said she had ‘never thought’ of reporting Johnson to the police or engaging in civil action. Valerie said telling her story and being believed has lifted ‘a huge weight’ off her shoulders.