Axel was sexually abused by a housemaster in Year 11 at his Anglican boarding school. The abuse was opportunistic and occurred once only but Axel suspected other boys may have also been abused.
After a simple online search Axel was able to confirm the man was still involved with the school 25 years later.
‘I have grave concerns his predatory behaviour would have extended far past myself. It would have been a very ripe environment – young, isolated, maturing men.’
The perpetrator, who Axel declined to name, was involved with the school in a non-teaching role and also the father of a fellow student. He may have been in his 50s or older at the time, although all adult men looked ‘old’ to 16-year-old Axel.
Axel remembered the man ‘had the particular skill of grooming. He used to bring us all into his room, all sorts of people, hold court’.
At Axel’s Year 12 formal in the 1980s when the perpetrator’s name came up, one student had ‘shuddered’ and remarked: ‘Yeah, that’s a dirty old man!’
Axel had been studying well over the minimum amount of subject units required to matriculate to university and had been offered an incentive to work with a major company.
However, the abuse, which consisted of ‘skin on skin contact’ that persisted despite his resistance, led to Axel being ‘institutionalised’ for a number of days after an intense period of examinations.
‘In the context of some of the matters in which I have dealt … it would not be considered in the most serious category. I have learned however, that the impact … of assaults are far reaching.’
Despite telling his parents at the time, Axel doubts they did anything further with the information.
The abuse had a profound impact that he did not fully appreciate ‘until the latter parts of university’. Axel has ‘strong beliefs in the human spirit, [that are] perhaps somewhat jaded in relation to institutions’.
Outcomes of this abuse included Axel experiencing an ‘emotional breakdown’, a serious episode of self-harm, and the persistent feeling that no matter how much he achieved – including multiple academic qualifications – he would forever grapple with the ‘concept of being a victim’.
He sought counselling for ‘continuing emotional health issues’. During one counselling exercise he experienced a ‘moment that I realised how deeply those things had affected me. People often talk about getting over it. You don’t – or at least not in my experience. What we learn is to cope’.
After leaving the boarding school – ‘all I wanted to do was get away’ – Axel ‘very much went off the rails’. However, he also decided to ‘experience as much of life’ as possible by trying different sports, creative pursuits and travelling.
‘But sadly – I think most certainly it’s stress related, event-related – my memory is extremely poor. I certainly have blackouts or massive parts of pre-17 [years of age] I just simply struggle to recall.’
Axel hoped that his story of ‘acceptance’ of what had happened to him ‘would demonstrate that it is possible to grow’. He embraces the term ‘survivor’ and agrees it is very important that people understand that survivors are not victims. ‘If there was one thing that I wanted to communicate [it] is a sense of hope’.
He now works as a legal professional, and this influenced his experience of the private session process. ‘This is, as you would appreciate, a particularly difficult setting as a practitioner.’ He had the greatest respect for people who have been ‘able to come forward, particularly those whose experience [was] far more traumatic than mine’.
Suspecting that his sexual abuser had at least two other victims at his former school, he agreed to investigate whether the man was still involved with the school and had had access to children.
What continued to plague him were ‘strong feelings of guilt and being seen as a victim’. He told of how the ‘concept of acceptance’ was a fundamental issue in matters of child sexual abuse.
‘The grieving process is one that involves two people. The perpetrator and the victim. Because it involves two people there is an interchange, a communication, and no matter how logically you can keep on telling yourself that you were a child there is still this course … and to what extent you being involved in the commission of the crime, to what extent you were involved, those feelings are by no means rational.
‘My greatest fear in coming here today would be being seen as a victim. Even if I’m not, I still feel it.’