One night in the late 1980s Andrew saw a news item on TV about a teacher who’d just been convicted of child sex offences. The teacher had molested multiple children at a school in a Western Australian country town. Andrew was in his early 20s at the time and happened to be watching TV with a group of old friends. All of them recognised the teacher, Scott Donovan. He had taught them, years before, at their primary school in Perth.
None of them was surprised by the news. As children, they’d never used the term paedophile to describe him. ‘We didn’t know what a paedophile was.’ Even so, Donovan had a reputation. ‘I can’t say how many boys it happened to, but everyone knew about it.’ And as grown-ups, it was obvious. ‘I think we were more shocked not that he’d been caught, but that he got as far as he did, for so long.’ What Andrew didn’t reveal to his friends was that as an 11 and 12-year-old he too had been sexually abused by Donovan. As kids, he said, ‘No one would ever say it had happened to them.’ As adults, that hadn’t changed.
‘My first telling the whole story was to the Commission. And if you hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have told anyone.’
When Andrew was eight, his father died. He had no siblings, and lived with just his mother. As an 11-year-old, he was vulnerable to the attentions of Donovan, as were other fatherless boys. ‘He picked other kids that didn’t have dads as well. That was his mode, I suppose.’
In Andrew’s last years of primary school, Donovan was his classroom teacher. Donovan also coached sport and was involved in sport in the wider community. He often organised a mini-van and took groups of eight to 10 kids on night-time excursions, followed by a sleepover at the school where everyone bunked down in a classroom. He took children on weekend camps and holidays. He gave them gifts. ‘The more popular you were with him, the better the gift would be’, Andrew said.
‘This guy was like the Pied Piper. Your parents would drop you off at the school at six o’clock on a Friday, or a Saturday, or a Sunday, or all three, and he would take you out to sporting events and stuff like that. Then there was sleepovers at the school … It was sort of too good to be true, in hindsight.’
Andrew wonders now that Donovan’s behaviour didn’t prompt any questions. ‘This guy has no life other than picking kids up at the school … and taking them out’, he observed. ‘He definitely fooled people with his persona.’
Andrew was sexually assaulted by Donovan during sleepovers, on camps and at Donovan’s home. The impact on him was profound. He became ‘naughty’. He was a top student when he finished primary school, though looking back he doubts that success. ‘I don’t even know if I was a top student. [Donovan] was the man that was marking all my grades. I don’t even know if any of that was real.’ Afterwards, it was all downhill. ‘There was no rules after that.’
Andrew’s mother was so concerned by his change in behaviour that when he was about 13 she got him to sign up for a navy cadets program. Bullied, terrorised and humiliated by older cadets during overnight camps, Andrew left after less than two months. ‘I can’t say it’s sexual abuse of any kind, but it’s bastardisation.’ The experience confirmed the mistrust of authority he’d already learned as a result of Donovan’s abuse.
‘In my “important and formative years” these institutions and people with a duty of care had definitely let me down and even betrayed me’, he said in a written statement.
Andrew left school early. He struggled with depression and addiction throughout his teenage years and much of his adult life. His issues with authority made it hard for him to keep a job. ‘I still have a problem being told what to do.’ In his 30s, he went to the police to report Donovan’s abuse. They told him Donovan had died.
‘I would have liked them to take a statement, because I wanted it on record. And they weren’t dismissive but they said “Listen, he’s passed away while he’s in prison, so there’s no great need or use to continue with anything”.’
Andrew believes that one factor in Donovan’s abuse of him was the culture of rules he grew up in. Rules like ‘respect your elders’ and ‘children should be seen and not heard’. It’s not like that now, he said.
‘I think things have changed so much. If there’s even a Commission, that’s doing your work, it’s just a great sign of change. Because even 10 years ago I don’t think it would have been considered.’
Andrew speaks highly of the difference the Royal Commission has made to him. ‘I can’t believe that I’ve had the opportunity to have a voice’, he said.
He was put in touch with a counsellor, and with that support has been able to deal with his substance abuse problems. ‘I am as clean as a whistle. The counselling has helped me a lot.’ He is yet to disclose the full story of his abuse – he’s taking it slowly – but is positive about what he’s achieved. ‘I’ve come a heck of a long way’, he said.
He hasn’t told his mother about Donovan, and doesn’t intend to. ‘Not now … She’d just blame herself.’ He attributes his survival to her, and his wife.
‘My mum gave me a really good grounding of love, which is totally I think the reason I’m still here. Just keep battling on, is the grounding she gave me. And the same with my wife. I’ve had a lot of patience from my wife in my adult life. She’s put up with all my addictions and mental health issues.’ She sees things of value in him, he agrees. ‘Yeah. And now I’m starting to see them too – now the cloud’s lifting.’