This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.
"Can I have your phone number?"
It was lunchtime at the only school in a small coastal town of New South Wales. Dani* was a Year 12 student with both the thrill and fear of her future on the horizon, in the midst of the stresses of completing her Higher School Certificate.
On this particular Wednesday, she was plodding along in the playground, by herself, when the school’s PE teacher approached her. It seemed odd, considering he hadn’t taught her for a few years.
But when they began talking, she quickly realised this wasn’t about her studies.
He wanted to let her know he "had a thing" for her. He was a 50-year-old man. She was a 17-year-old girl.
Dani was taken aback. Her friends often joked that their PE teacher had a 'crush' on her - a remark she would simply brush aside. Clearly, though, her friends' instincts were right.
He had a deep infatuation for her. Dani didn’t have any such feelings for him, but she also didn’t see the harm in sharing her number.
Two weeks later, at 10pm on a weeknight, her phone pinged.
"Hey, do you want to come over for a study session?"
The text took Dani back to the times he had taught her, in her first three years at this school.
When she was 14 years old, her stepfather was emotionally and physically abusing her at home. At the time, there was only one person who would ask her about her home life: her PE teacher.
During their classes in those early years, he would always encourage her to open up to him.
"I would tell him about my home life and what I was going through. And then he started opening up about his personal life by telling me his wife had just left him."
Dani can’t remember ever feeling uncomfortable.
"I thought he was wanting to help and was genuinely being a nice guy. I think I was just happy to have someone to talk to. No one else wanted to listen to what I was going through."
In Year 10, Dani’s abuse stopped when her stepfather took his own life. She hadn’t spoken to her PE teacher about it since their last class together.
But he certainly hadn’t stopped thinking of her. He would later confess he had been "in love" with Dani since she was in Year 8.