Alistair John's story

Alistair was born into a large Catholic family in regional New South Wales in the late 1950s. The children all attended Catholic primary and secondary schools associated with the local church. He and his brothers became altar boys in their parish, which was a great honour for their parents.

Alistair was an active child and his school friends were the same. When he was 12 he and a few friends took up martial arts after school.

The lessons were run by the local Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC), and it was here that Alistair came into contact with sports instructor Craig Stephens. Stephens was an athletic man, who Alistair thinks was probably in his late 20s. He was strong and intimidating and would often threaten the boys if his leadership was questioned.

Stephens sexually abused Alistair on numerous occasions during classes over two years. Alistair knew that Stephens was also abusing the other boys as this abuse took place in group settings, but he couldn’t tell anyone else what was happening.

‘I didn’t feel like I could stand up to him and say no. To the extent that I thought I should tell my father but he would beat him up.’

The abuse ceased when Alistair’s friend George told his father about Stephens. George’s father confronted the PCYC about Stephens but nothing further was done. Alistair believes the PCYC ‘could have provided a voice’ for those unable to speak of the abuse, and could have prevented Stephens from abusing other boys.

As a young teenager in the 1970s, Alistair had just started at a Christian Brothers high school and still attended the Catholic church. He was introduced to a young priest, Father Smith, and they formed a friendship instantly.

At a school dance Father Smith ‘saw an opportunity’ with Alastair and offered him alcohol. When Alistair was extremely intoxicated Smith took him to a motel nearby, made him watch pornographic movies, and sexually abused him.

Alistair could not tell anyone about what Smith had done. He felt embarrassed and also felt intimidated by Smith as he was a priest who everyone respected. Smith never approached him again.

After Alistair left school he looked to drugs and alcohol to try and forget the memories of the abuse. He became addicted to heroin and had a couple of overdoses which caused permanent damage.

Alistair does not feel able to settle and has moved houses over 20 times. He has no career and has had many jobs because he ‘runs away’ from his problems. Sexual relationships continue to be problematic. He does not trust people easily, and explained he has been attracted to ‘loose’ girls who have increased his distrust.

‘I’ve had what you call “relationships” with 14 women over the years. Three of which only lasted a year or more. The rest of them, I have a serious blockage with sexual intimacy. I can’t dump that on another woman, it’s not fair. Until I can sort that out, there’s no point in me trying.’

It was not until the 1990s that Alistair disclosed the sexual abuse. He was in his 30s and had started both drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and spoke about it during counselling linked to this.

Alistair also told his mother and discovered that she too had been abused as a child. He feels ‘her coping mechanisms would have influenced’ his own ‘coping mechanisms’.

He reported Craig Stephens to the local police. Stephens was a known offender at that stage and he went to trial. In court, Alistair was shocked that the public defender referred to the abuse as being ‘a rite of passage for the boys’ who attended the PCYC. Stephens was convicted and given a community sentence.

Alistair also reported Father Smith to the Catholic Church, shortly after Stephens’ trial. He was shifted from church to church before meeting with a bishop from another parish. Although he felt he was being listened to ‘nothing was offered’ to assist him. He learned later that Father Smith was charged for similar offences against other boys.

Alistair is considering re-approaching the Catholic Church for compensation, but decided not to approach PCYC because he felt that ‘they do so much good in society’. He is proud that he has remained alcohol and drug free for over a decade. He now has a stable job in rural New South Wales and hopes to start a relationship.

‘I live out there alone, I’ve never married, I have no children. I might end up with my own home but I’m going to die alone.’

He recommended that the Royal Commission should ‘examine the coping mechanisms’ of the victims and assess the damage done to secondary victims.

‘The Commission bringing all the abuse out into the world, it makes me feel less of a sole victim. For some reason, it’s sort of like I’m not alone in this.’

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