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Velma's story

Velma’s daughter Gabby was six years old attending kindergarten at a Catholic school in Adelaide. On one particularly warm afternoon, Velma picked Gabby up early from after school care. While Gabby was sitting at home in her t-shirt and underpants, Velma noticed two letters written in texta just under her knicker-line. Velma asked Gabby where the markings had come from, to which Gabby reluctantly revealed what had occurred earlier that day.

It transpired that Gabby had been assaulted by three other students: two boys aged approximately 13 and 10, and another girl who was older than Gabby. One boy had held Gabby down while the older boy vaginally penetrated Gabby with pieces of wood and bark as well as tried to rape her. The writing on Gabby’s body may have been the initials of one of the children, but neither Gabby nor Velma were sure of that.

After it had been revealed that Gabby had been sexually assaulted while at school, Velma contacted the school’s principal who advised her to take Gabby to the hospital, which she did. Within a few days Velma also took Gabby to the local police where it was revealed that the hospital inspection had found a single sperm inside Gabby’s genital area. Unfortunately this was not enough to identify the perpetrator. The police asked Gabby to identify the perpetrators but she was not able to. Velma believes this is largely due to threats of violence against Gabby and her mother that were levelled during the incident should Gabby decide to speak out.

Velma believes that staff had gone inside for an afternoon tea break, not realising that four children were missing, hence the lack of supervision at the time.

Velma tried to pursue the matter further with the police, hospital and the school and believes that none acted appropriately or swiftly enough. In fact, the director of After School Care denied the event took place at all. ‘They wanted to go with a version that it didn’t happen. When I got that result about the sperm I spoke to [her] about it and she said to me “Sorry, I’m not going to discuss this with you because I don’t agree with you”. And that really upset me ... I mean, I had proper solid physical evidence … and they still wanted to brush me off.’

‘My daughter went through stages where she would say to me “yes it did happen” and then she would say to me “it didn’t” and then she would say it did and then didn’t … and the school wanted to go with “it didn’t happen”. They wanted me to keep it secret.’

Velma herself has a history of being abused both as a child and an adult, and her own life experience has meant this incident has had a profound effect on her. After the incident with Gabby, Velma told the Commissioner, ‘I had nightmares … I cried nearly every day for about two weeks … I got a security system installed in my house soon after that’.

Velma is particularly upset that the school did not make any effort to inform other parents. ‘I was very angry at the school … very, very angry … It’s only ‘cause I’ve got a brain in my head that I didn’t physically get violent with them, ‘cause I was just so angry.’

‘They threatened to sue me. Why would I lie about that? … That I was doing it to destroy the school’s reputation, which I wasn’t … The quality of care should have changed while my daughter was still at school and that didn’t.’

At one stage Gabby revealed to Velma that she believed the boy who had raped her had been sexually abused by his own mother. Velma feels that the school had the duty of care to look for signs that their students may have had trouble at home, but chose to ignore them.

‘I guess what I’m saying is that the carers, like in this case the after school care staff and probably the school staff as well, like for them to be educated on how to identify kids that are being abused and to know how the child’s behaviour is a little bit different … I think education’s a big part of it.’

‘I think children need to be educated about how to handle unsafe situations … that children are educated on what to do if they’re confronted with those situations.’

Velma strongly believes that other parents at the school should have been informed that there was a perpetrator within the school so that they could do what they saw fit for their own kids.

‘It’s not just my daughter that they let down but they let down the other children as well, not just the two boys and the girl but all the children at that school.’

Gabby is now a teenager and Velma is afraid this incident may have had an enduring effect. ‘Just this last weekend gone she went to a 21st birthday party … She was telling me that she didn’t really want to be around the boys, that she wanted to stay with her female friends. And that made me think, “Well was that something to do with the abuse that she went through?”’

More than anything, Velma hopes that what happened to her daughter can be prevented from happening to any child again, and that this incident has the potential to drive positive change.

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