Olivia Carville is an investigative reporter with the NZ Herald.

Girls abused by caretaker lack support, say their mums

At least two young girls sexually abused by Robert Burrett have had no counselling a year after the Christchurch caretaker was exposed as a child rapist.
At least two young girls sexually abused by Robert Burrett have had no counselling a year after the Christchurch caretaker was exposed as a child rapist.

At least two young girls sexually abused by Robert Burrett have received no counselling a year after the Christchurch caretaker was exposed as a child rapist.

The mothers of two victims told the Weekend Herald their daughters have not received any counselling by education authorities, despite being sexually violated in an underground boiler room on school grounds.

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The apparent lack of support has come about because neither the Ministry of Education or the school know who the victims are because of an automatic court suppression order that is supposed to be protecting them.

Police referred the families of all 12 victims to a community sexual abuse service when Burrett's offending first came to light, but "other than that no one has really said much of anything to us or the kids," one mother said.

The two mothers want answers about not only why their daughters haven't been seen by counsellors at the school, but also how a predatory caretaker with a chequered past was able to take their children out of class to molest them.

They say they feel let down by education authorities - claiming the abuse could have been prevented if Burrett's background of alcohol abuse, incompetence and inappropriateness was known.

A Weekend Herald investigation last week revealed Burrett had previously been forced out of two schools in the North Island as principal and deputy principal - with one removal the result of a secret payout - and ex-students recalled him masturbating in class as far back as 1992.

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Dark past of playground predator

The 64-year-old grandfather was convicted last month of raping and sexually abusing a dozen young girls in Christchurch.

His victims were as young as five and some were physically disabled.

The abuse went on for two years; with Burrett hiding his offending by installing curtains and locks on the caretaker's shed he lured his victims into.

A mother's rage

"I'm confused about how they could miss something like this; that's what pisses me off the most," the mother of the 12-year-old girl who blew the whistle on Burrett's sex crimes at the school last year said.

"When we went to that first meeting at the school I was so fired up. I was so angry about how they missed this and how they missed it for this long," the woman, who cannot be named because of the suppression order, said.

Her daughter now "hates" hearing Burrett's name.

"She hopes he goes to jail forever."

This little girl is not alone.

One of Burrett's cousins said he hoped the justice system "locks him up and throws away the key."

"If there's anything I remember about Bobby, I want to forget it," the man, who asked not to be named because he didn't want to be associated with Burrett, said.

"I'm utterly disgusted and if I had to speak to him again, I'd tell him never to approach me when I had a gun in my hand."

Burrett's wife, who worked as a receptionist at the school her husband abused children in, told the Herald she did not want to comment.

When asked if she knew about her husband's offending, she said: "I'm not saying anything at all."

Burrett was raised in Auckland and first started working as a teacher in 1970.
After being forced out of a second school for inappropriate behaviour, he moved down to Christchurch with his wife in 2006.

He started working at the school in question about five years ago.

A dirty secret

Two of the young girls Burrett sexually violated are cousins.

Their mothers said Burrett lured the children into his shed with promises of lollies and money.

He would call them 'honey' or 'darling', hug them, kiss them and touch their bottoms. One of the girls, aged 11, ran away when Burrett tried to put his hand down her pants. Sometimes, he would abuse two or three girls in the shed at the same time, one mother said.

"He would touch one of the girls and make the others watch and tell them it was their little secret and that somebody would get hurt if they didn't keep the secret."

On one occasion when Burrett came to her daughter's class to ask if he could "borrow her" to help him with a job, she told her teacher she was too scared to go.

The teacher said "don't be silly" and sent her outside, the mother said.

"I'm just so mad. Why would you do that to innocent little girls? It just makes me sick," she said.

"Given what had happened in his past, he should never have been allowed to be around any of our kids."

Despite Burrett slipping through the ministry's net, the Education Council claims the current system is "totally different" and far more robust today than 20 years ago, when his behaviour first caused alarm.

In 2004, a new law took effect forcing schools to mandatorily report any concerns against teachers - this legislative change occurred just after Burrett was forced out of his second school which means the incident was never officially recorded against his name.

Left in the dark

The school and Ministry of Education have been left in the dark over the identities of the girls Burrett attacked because of the court suppression order - and because police are trying to protect the privacy of the victims, a police spokesman said.

The school's board chair, who cannot be named due to the suppression order, said the school did not know if all the victims had been offered counselling because "we don't know who all the victims are."

When asked if he thought the school should know which students had been abused in order to offer them support, he said he was sorry but that he could not comment further because the case was before the courts.

The ministry sent in a specialist trauma team to support the school after Burrett's arrest last year, but a spokeswoman said this support did not extend to the victims because "due to suppression orders we do not have their details."

This has been a "harrowing time for all those affected by Burrett's terrible crimes" and the ministry was supporting school staff and "the people who know the students best," she said.

For police, the "wellbeing and privacy of victims is our first priority," a spokesman said. It was standard practice to protect the identity of sexual abuse victims and refer their families on to organisations that can provide specialist services.

"It is then over to them to how they choose to access those services according to their needs," he said.

Rape survivor and advocate Louise Nicholas said agencies working with young victims were battling a "double-edged sword" when it came to trying to protect their identities but also ensuring the best support systems were in place to help them heal.

"I think their privacy is more important... than what appears to be a lack of service to the children," she said.

- NZ Herald

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