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Andrew Stephen's story

‘The reason I did come forward was because I was, I guess, mindful that he may have done something similar … to another kid and if he’s still in the system … he could [still] be dealing with children.’

Andrew contacted the Royal Commission after seeing an interview on television about reporting child sexual abuse. Survivors were asked to come forward about their abusers, otherwise ‘the perpetrator may never, ever be noticed’. This gave Andrew the courage to contact the Commission.

‘I’ve thought about it more recently than I have done over the past few years since this all started … To tell you the truth, I blocked it out. Until recently I’ve kept this from everybody – my mum and dad, my wife, kids.’

In the early 1970s Andrew boarded in a Catholic high school in the Northern Territory. Andrew’s devout family lived more than 1,500 kilometres away and he wouldn’t see his parents for two or three months at a time.

When Andrew was 13, he came to the attention of a Brother at the school who was both Andrew’s ‘board master’ and discipline master. ‘He was just a ruthless prick. He was a terrible man.’

The Brother punished the boys for minor misdemeanours with ‘six of the best’ from a strap made out of two bits of leather with a hacksaw blade in the middle, ‘all sewn around’.

‘If you flinched, he’d hit you again’. All the boys were ‘very scared of this fellow’. This fear was heightened for Andrew as the Brother had spent time at Andrew’s family home where ‘Mum and Dad greeted him with open arms’.

The Brother organised for the boys to undertake some construction work after school. When they finished their tasks, he made Andrew go into his room for a shower.

‘He insisted that I use his shower … and then he used to sit in his chair … make you strip off, go in the shower, have the shower and he would sit there … I was shit scared of this fellow … then he insisted on rubbing ointment around my balls and penis.’

The abuse occurred three times and stopped, Andrew believes, because the Brother lost interest in him.

Around the same time, Andrew joined a scout troop. The troop was run by one man on his own. On camps the man would encourage the boys to swim naked and invited Andrew to his bush property. He made Andrew walk around naked and, when another boy was invited to stay the night, the man left photos of naked boys for them to find.

‘There was never any physical touching … not the same as the Brother. He used to want to photograph us. He’d encourage us to walk around naked and he’d photograph us … I felt really uncomfortable.’

The man threatened the boys with a gun. ‘He basically swore us to secrecy when he took us back to the [boarding school] … I was scared of this fellow.’ Andrew stopped attending scouts to avoid him.

‘The worst thing about it all was … I couldn’t tell anybody about it. I couldn’t tell anybody at the boarding school because it just wasn’t the sort of thing you do or say, and I was a very scared young lad … The only form of communication we had outside the school was letter writing.

‘We’d write letters home … We had to write the letter and then hand it to the Brother [who was abusing Andrew] and he would vet the letters … We had no way of warning anybody. We were basically locked in, trapped.’

Andrew also now understands that even when he did go home on holidays, he spent very little time with his parents, who were running a business. ‘We didn’t actually get to know our mum and dad, you know. We didn’t have that trust as I’ve encouraged in my kids.’

As a parent, Andrew has been ‘very over-protective’. He has also experienced difficulties in intimate relationships with his wife and children. ‘I find it very hard to receive affection. I find it easy to show affection with the kids in my life but when it is reciprocated I have a lot of trouble.’

Andrew has ongoing issues with self-esteem and depression but has never sought help from a psychologist or counsellor.

‘I try to hide all my emotions so I don’t break down … I’ve been a bit hard on myself. I try to bottle things up … I always try to be the rock in the family, the man, and I try to maintain that composure.’

He found talking to the Royal Commission both a relief and anxiety-inducing.

‘When I had the first [follow up] phone call from the Commission, I felt a bit of a weight lifted off my shoulders and then … a week or two later … I went into a bit of anxiety, went from one extreme to the other … [It] all came flooding back.’

But after speaking with the Commissioner, Andrew thinks counselling ‘will do me some good’.

Because Andrew has never disclosed his abuse to anyone, his abusers haven’t been pursued through the criminal justice system. Now, he wants to let the police know about the men.

‘At the end of the day the worst thing that I would think of is that he’s got away with it scot-free and that he’s done it to some other kid.’

He may also seek compensation through the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing redress process.

Andrew’s family has provided both comfort and distraction from his memories.

‘My saving grace is I’ve got … grandkids now: my seven-year-old granddaughter is my therapy.’

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