Alec Garth's story

‘I’ve lost everything trying to seek justice for what happened to me as a child. I lost my wife. I lost my kids. I lost my house. I lost my job. What else can I lose? … I’ve lost my life as far as I’m concerned.’

Alec grew up in a devout Catholic family in the 1970s and 80s in a small New South Wales town. He came to the Royal Commission to tell his story of being sexually abused by a family member from the age of seven until he was about 14.

In the mid-2000s, when he was in his 30s, Alec reported the abuse to police and the man was charged with numerous counts of sexual abuse. During the court case however, Alec’s evidence was undermined and discounted and the man was only convicted on one charge.

‘What happened in that trial – it cost me more than anything.’

What Alec didn’t reveal until many years after the trial, was that he’d been taken to the local Catholic presbytery where he was sexually abused by both the man and a priest. After he was given alcohol and cigarettes, the men touched Alec’s genitals, masturbated him and made him perform oral sex. They threatened him to keep quiet about the abuse. Alec, about eight or nine at the time, was too scared to report the men.

‘My mum and dad … because they were really big Catholics I didn’t want to shame them at all or shame the man so I didn’t tell my mum – of any abuse – until my father died … He [the man] introduced me to the abuse at the church. He took me there. That happened.’

A few years later, when Alec was about 12 and still being abused by his relative, he began as an altar boy at the church under the guidance of a different priest. ‘I did one mass and I got asked to stay behind because I was new … [The priest] told me I was doing good but, “You got to do some initiation” … he touched me.’

Alec stopped being an altar boy but the priest was closely connected to the school and one day Alec was given the task of delivering something to him at the presbytery. Alec handed over the item but was told he needed ‘punishment’.

‘He said I’d been bad and I wasn’t behaving and he’d heard this from teachers … and I was freaking out – I remember it really clearly – I was shitting myself. He told me to turn around and pulled my pants down and I was bent over … He put his fingers up me bum and fondled me … I was crying my eyes out. When I left my bum was bleeding.’

Alec had told no one about the abuse by the priests until recently when he contacted the Royal Commission. He has since told his mother.

‘She couldn’t understand – she thought, she suspected but she put it out of her head … she’s so sorry and she can’t believe it.’

After a lifetime of active engagement, his mother has now withdrawn from the Church. Alec has no time for religion at all.

‘I hate the Church. I hate Catholics. Anything to do with religion I despise … I want to bulldoze it all.’

Alec’s schooling suffered because of the abuse. He ‘went from pretty much top of the class to pretty much bottom of the class … and I just kept going downhill at a rapid rate.

‘I can’t concentrate. I’m flighty as hell … My anger – that scares me … and it’s all from that … They’ve ruined my life. I live with this constant weight on me … All the things I’ve wanted to do in life I’ve never done … I can’t move forward.’

The abuse has stayed with him and the impacts are heightened whenever he hears about paedophilia and child sexual abuse in the community.

‘Not a day goes by – especially when I see the Royal Commission on telly, any case of paedophilia, anything towards children – it drives me nuts … I’ve had good times here and there but that never goes away …

‘Knowing I was coming here this week, I haven’t slept … [I’m] all over the place.’

Alec has ongoing issues with alcohol and drugs but finds enjoyment in surfing. He has no trust in the police or the court system after the trial of his family member, but he does want justice.

‘I’m not after compensation … No dollar sign can buy my life … [But] I can’t go backwards. I can’t start my life again.’

He has tried counselling but doesn’t feel that it did him any good because the counsellor hadn’t experienced abuse.

‘I have spoken to another person who’s been abused and that was probably the best thing I ever did. Because they knew what could happen and mentally they know what’s going on.’

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