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Beau James's story

‘I remember being a happy young boy up until Justin took hold and after that it was a horrible childhood, and now as a grown man I feel he should be accountable and apologise to me in person ... I don’t particularly want him charged with the offences as I don’t want to ruin his life but an apology in front of myself and witnesses would be wonderful and yes, compensation would help also.’

When Beau started high school he was ‘happy-go-lucky’ but by his second year at the government school in Tasmania he’d become the target of bullies and was regularly singled out for physical attacks. Beau’s father, who was prone to episodes of violent behaviour himself, told his son he had to defend himself better and would get angry when he couldn’t.

By the time Beau was 13 in the late 60s, physical assaults by other boys on him were common place and he thinks this, together with his small stature, were factors in making him a further target, this time for sexual abuse by classmate, Justin Baldwin.

Beau had already seen Baldwin masturbating in public places and at a friend’s home. He then coerced Beau into touching his penis while he masturbated. ‘This occurred on many occasions’, Beau said. ‘And always with the threat of violence if I reported it.’

On one occasion, Baldwin took down Beau’s shorts and masturbated over him.

‘I was terrified after that event. I felt really bad and wrong inside my head. Why did it happen? I had thoughts and feelings associated with being very dirty and very guilty. This was the last time Justin sexually assaulted me. However, the random bashings continued in the streets around the area, not by Justin, but by his mates.’

At school, groups of boys would strip Beau naked and throw him into the shower area, ‘sliding on my back and buttocks into the cold water’. Whenever he reported incidents to school staff, he’d experience further assaults from boys who called him a ‘dobber’ and ‘mummy’s boy’.

‘I felt terrible all the time and developed low self-esteem and self-worth. I felt depressed a lot of the time but I didn’t know what it was at that time. I developed strong suicidal thoughts … My life was a horrible existence, both at school and at home. I was very unhappy.’

As the attacks on him continued, Beau became the ‘class clown’ as a way of fending off the abuse. He began displaying aggressive behaviour towards his mother and sisters and at 16, was referred to a psychiatrist. ‘He was a really nice, trustworthy man and he helped me very much’, Beau said.

The aggressive behaviour continued however when he left school. He got into fights with other men at work and was sacked from one job after he ‘man-handled’ a colleague.

As an adult, Beau was diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed anti-depressants. Throughout his adult life he’d made several attempts to end his life and on one occasion, was hospitalised.

‘I didn’t want to die, I just couldn’t work out what to do anymore with everything going on in my head.’

He became skilled in martial arts and started body-building in an attempt to prevent ever being a target or getting ‘bashed up’ again.

‘It was one of the best things I did, but it became an absolute obsessive-compulsive thing. I couldn’t get big enough and I couldn’t get strong enough and we trained Christmas day rather than have Christmas with whoever we were with, ‘cause it would have meant missing a session with the weights.’

Over the years Beau had talked to various counsellors and in the late 2000s, met one who was skilled in working with people with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he hadn’t needed counselling since.

Beau’s first disclosure of Baldwin’s abuse was in the mid-1990s. He’d started having nightmares and reported the abuse to Tasmania Police. They interviewed Baldwin who denied ever having known Beau. Police said that because of the statute of limitations and Baldwin’s denials, they were unable to proceed in taking the matter further.

In the early 2000s, as community knowledge and media reports about child sexual abuse increased, Beau again went to police. They again investigated and this time found school records that corroborated at least some his account. However, the detective and a solicitor with whom Beau spoke told him that the incidents weren’t considered criminal acts at the time they occurred.

He was also told that victim compensation wasn’t available to him because the events had taken place prior to 1976.

Beau believed that a death threat left on his answering machine had been orchestrated by Baldwin and after reporting it to police, Baldwin was again interviewed. Beau said it gave him some satisfaction that Baldwin’s wife was made aware of the matter.

Beau told the Commissioner that he’d had no successful intimate relationships through his life and he was estranged from his siblings. He doesn’t know what might have been different in life if his high school years had been ones of safety.

‘I’m confident my life would have been better than it has been … Children have to be able to talk to someone they trust in authority who can and will help them to have the issues dealt with appropriately. If we don’t learn from others’ past events and help create a better safer society for all of us then there will continue to be broken people walking the streets trying to exist … We trust the school to keep our children safe and we need the school to act swiftly if reports are made. In my case I couldn’t. It would have made a real difference if I could have.’

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