INVESTIGATION

Class action possible against Education Department over historic Port Macquarie High teacher sex allegations between the 1970s and 1990s

Debra Hood front, second from the right with classmates in 1979, before the alleged incidents took place. PHOTO: supplied.
Debra Hood front, second from the right with classmates in 1979, before the alleged incidents took place. PHOTO: supplied.

Margaret had almost finished her final year at Port Macquarie High School in 1980 when a male teacher began to greet her as she walked to class.

"He would smile and raise his eyebrows but for the most part I ignored him," Margaret said.

She said she was already vulnerable because of long-term sexual harassment and sexual assault at a part-time job that had started when she was 14.

She used alcohol to "self-medicate" and numb her feelings and when out socialising with other students one night she said the teacher approached her while she was heavily intoxicated and initiated sexual contact.

The teacher later arranged to see her again one night at a rural hotel where they were less likely to be recognised.

They returned to the teacher's house, where sexual relations continued while the teacher's wife was at work.

"He kept asking me on several occasions if I had sex with anyone before so my adult understanding is that he fetishised young virgins, who he would then discard when he got what he wanted," she said.

Margaret said shortly after finishing school a second teacher from the school approached her when she was alone and heavily intoxicated at a Port Macquarie nightclub.

"At this stage the only reason that I wouldn't have told him to bugger off was because he was a teacher," she said.

"I felt there was a degree of trust."

The interaction later resulted in sex in a car.

Margaret said the two male teachers took advantage of her vulnerability.

"At a time when I needed the adults in my life to notice changes in my behaviour and offer pastoral care, instead they recognised my vulnerability and fragility and totally took advantage of that for their sexual gratification."

Margaret's story is not unique with similar claims by other women spanning 20 years.

A Facebook group called Teacher's Pet Released was started in relation to Port Macquarie High School and allegations around teacher-student relations. Up to 42 women have made contact with the page's administrator to share their stories.

The Facebook page followed a podcast, Teacher's Pet by the Australian newspaper, around the disappearance of Lynette Dawson.

Lawyer Steve Kerin told the Port News they were "acting on behalf of a number of mature women, all previous students of Port Macquarie High School during the years 1970s to 1990s".

"We are investigating, on their behalf, a number of serious allegations in relation to sexual interference whilst they were students at the school. The NSW Education Department owe each and every student a duty of care not to expose them to a risk of harm which they knew or ought to have known about," Mr Kerin said.

"A breach of that duty of care will give rise to causes of action upon each of these women.

"The matters are serious and complex and may result in civil proceedings against the NSW Education Department the scope of which is yet to be fully established.

"The NSW Education Department cannot deflect people to the police on the basis of some sort of criminal action when in fact there may well be breaches of the civil law obligations to their students.

"At this stage there are multiple possible individual actions which may result in a class action."

There are no criminal proceedings being pursued.

The Port News has spoken to three other women who say they were targeted, groomed and seduced by male teachers in the 70s and 80s.

All felt the power dynamic of a teacher-student relationship left them vulnerable to the teachers sexual advances.

Debra Hood.

Debra Hood.

Brisbane woman Debra Hood was in the year following Ms Emerton.

She also claims she was targeted and groomed by a male teacher.

The teacher made friends with her family and later gave her keys to his flat in Port Macquarie.

"Other teachers were aware of this occurring but did nothing to stop it or intervene, it was like they were working in a pack and covered up for each other," she said.

"I felt so ashamed and humiliated but I believed somehow that I was to blame and responsible for his actions," Ms Hood said.

"I finally got the guts to say 'no more' to **** and then watched with dismay when he began making identical moves on a younger girl at school.

"Unable to resettle at school and feeling dirty, humiliated and profoundly sad and depressed I continued wagging all my classes."

Ms Hood said the abuse mapped out her whole life.

Debra Hood, second from left.

Debra Hood, second from left.

"The immediate damage to me as a teen from grooming and sexual assault by a teacher was the complete and overwhelming loneliness, isolation and self-hatred," she said.

"From this time, I became very self destructive by self-harming, suicide attempt leading to hospitalization, severe alcohol abuse and relationship sabotage due to having very deep issues with trust and self-worth.

"These behaviours went on for decades until, in a desperate state, I went to rehab for alcoholism in 2006 and finally received help and gained some level of understanding.

"I have been 100 per cent sober now for 13 years - always to be a work in progress in self acceptance and healing."

Another student Cindi told the Port News that as a 15-year-old she was also targeted by one of her teachers in 1979.

Out socialising with friends she was approached by the teacher who struck up a conversation.

"He started to get more intimate in his talk and asked me personal questions leading through to talk about various sexual acts and what I did and didn't know to do," Cindi said.

He totally abused his duty of care, I no longer wanted to be at school in his vicinity let alone be subject of further humiliation.

Cindi

"After buying me drinks, despite my instincts talking to me that something was not right he coerced me into his car.

"We went to his car and as soon as he started kissing me and touching my breasts I felt sick I told him to stop, I did not want to do this.

"He grabbed my wrists but I managed to get away from him and back to my friends.

"The next lesson I had with him at school was horrible. I told him I couldn't do a task he set for us and in front of the whole class he mocked me for not doing "a lot of things like I said I would".

Cindi said her life changed from that moment.

"He totally abused his duty of care, I no longer wanted to be at school in his vicinity let alone be subject of further humiliation," she said.

Life changing: Cindi says her life was impacted after the alleged incident with a teacher.

Life changing: Cindi says her life was impacted after the alleged incident with a teacher.

Former student Nicole said she felt "lonely, depressed and emotionally vulnerable" when she was approached by a teacher at a nightclub on a Friday night in her final year in 1981.

"He showed up in my life as a caring, interested older man giving me attention that I was so desperate for," Nicole said.

"My step-father was distant, my own father absent and there were no strong male role models in my life."

He regularly initiated the sexual contact which continued throughout her final year at school, she said.

"It was sex in his office and sex in his car, on the way home from school and after being out at night on the weekend where he supplied me with alcohol. Many of these sexual interactions were while I was very drunk, and I felt obligated to go along with it because he told me to - he was a teacher. It was solely for his sexual gratification."

There seemed no limits to the degradation I was willing to undergo - I was disconnected and self destructing. As a former A grade student, my school work suffered and I was drinking heavily by the end of year 12.

Nicole

One evening when they were out together Nicole noticed he spoke to another young woman.

"I asked him who she was, and he explained that she was 'last year's girl' - that I was not the first of his school girl lovers, that he took a new one every year."

After the teacher's interest in Nicole dwindled she went down a path of self-destructive behaviour.

"There seemed no limits to the degradation I was willing to undergo - I was disconnected and self destructing. As a former A grade student, my school work suffered and I was drinking heavily by the end of year 12."

"I started acting out sexually and engaging in one night stands with strange men who were at the nightclub, many were highly regarded businessmen in the town.

"I put myself in risky situations and was invited to sex parties organised by these older men, involving other school girls who were also sexually exploited. I felt confused and totally lacking any self-worth."

The Port News has been told a complaint was made against the alleged perpetrator of Nicole in 1980, a year before she was targeted and no action was taken.

Nancy Haglund, whose daughter was in her final year at Port Macquarie High School, was one of two parents who made the complaint.

A meeting was arranged and she met with two representatives of the NSW Education Department.

Ms Haglund said she was outraged by the inaction and the implication that the complaint would ruin the teacher's career.

In relation to historical offences, the Department encourages survivors to contact the NSW Police Force who have the means to investigate these historical claims with the dignity and respect these survivors deserve.

NSW Education Department spokesperson

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told the Port News the department has a responsibility to ensure that every single allegation of abuse involving a student or any member of the school community is fully investigated by police.

"In relation to historical offences, the Department encourages survivors to contact the NSW Police Force who have the means to investigate these historical claims with the dignity and respect these survivors deserve," the Department spokesperson said.

The Department said any past or present student who feels they have been a victim of abuse, can approach the Department of Education who will support them in taking their claims to the NSW Police.

Meaghan Cook, principal of Hastings Secondary College Port Macquarie campus (formerly known as Port Macquarie High School), supported the Department's stance on allegations of abuse.

"Our campus completely supports the Department Of Education's statement and is focused on all of our students, past and present. I would encourage anyone who feels they may have been a victim of abuse to make use of the Department's extensive support and services," she said.

  • If you have information you would like to share, contact the Port News at carla.mascarenhas@fairfaxmedia.com.au
This story Teacher sex allegations; former Port High students seek legal action first appeared on Port Macquarie News.