‘I developed this thing where I was really honest and a real, I guess what people call an “over-sharer”, and I did that intentionally. So whenever people probed me and asked me questions about how life’s going and things – and even with my peers – I would give them so much truth. And I’d just say, “This is who I am”.
‘But what I was actually doing – and I still do this today – was completely distracting them from this secret. I figured if I appear to be the most honest, trustworthy person in the world, who’s ever going to suspect this?’
Ben’s ‘secret’ was this: in the 1990s when he was an 11-year-old student at an Anglican school he was sexually abused by the school counsellor, Mr Maloney. It happened one day ‘out of the blue’ when Ben’s classroom teacher told him that he had to go to Maloney’s office to pick up some test results. The classroom teacher told Ben to come straight back and not ‘muck around’. Ben thought this was an odd thing to say.
When Ben entered the office, Maloney was waiting behind his desk. Glossing over the issue of Ben’s test results, Maloney commented on how stressed Ben looked and then offered to show him how to relax. He used a relaxation tape and ‘hypnosis’ to guide Ben into a groggy state.
Here Ben’s memories get vague. At some point – either during this session or perhaps on another day – a second boy entered the room. Maloney instructed Ben and the other boy to perform sex acts on each other while he sat behind his desk and masturbated. This went on for 15 to 20 minutes before Ben started to get ‘sort of conscious again and thinking my shirt’s out and my fly’s undone and my belt’s not quite right’.
Maloney then made Ben approach the desk. Ben saw Maloney putting his penis back into his pants – something that he believes Maloney wanted him to see. Then ‘he kind of just was like, “Okay, well, yep, here’s your test results, and see you later”. And that was it. That was kind of how it all sort of went. And I just kind of walked away in shock out the door.’
Ben never went back to Maloney’s office and was never abused again. He tried to put the experience out of his head, not mentioning it to anyone. Ben had a few reasons for keeping quiet. First, he was worried about how his parents would react.
‘I knew at that point in time that my father would literally kill him. He was that kind of guy … I knew my father was the type of guy who would kill him and say “I’m in jail but I had to do it”. And my mother isn’t the strongest of people, emotionally, and I knew it would crush her.’
Next, he didn’t trust the school to do right by him. After all, Maloney’s behaviour wasn’t secret. Kids openly teased other kids for going to Maloney’s office and teachers made comments like ‘If you go there, hurry straight back and don’t muck around’. Yet no one investigated. ‘That school, I think it was entrenched to turn a blind eye’, Ben told the Commissioner.
Finally, Ben wasn’t even sure that he had been abused.
‘He never touched me … I do remember sort of being like, “Well, I’m not actually being assaulted. It’s another boy my age, you know, we pee together, we get changed together”. So that line was blurred, and because it was blurred you’re looking at an adult to make the distinction, and then that distinction wasn’t made.’
In the aftermath of the abuse Ben became highly sexualised. He started masturbating a lot. He also started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. He went through several jobs and relationships until eventually he managed to complete a course, get a job that he loved and meet Natalie, who later became his wife.
For the first few years of his marriage, Ben didn’t tell Natalie about what Maloney had done. Nor did he tell any of the counsellors and psychologists that he saw over the years. He tried many times but couldn’t quite get there.
‘I’d walk in there and in the back of my mind it’d be like, “Today’s the day I’m going to tell them”. And then I’d spend a whole session talking about other crap to avoid it.’
In his 30s his drinking got out of control. One night during a drunken binge he told Natalie about the abuse. She tried to help him but he continued his downward spiral until, about a year before his session with the Royal Commission, he hit ‘rock bottom’.
‘Twelve months ago’, he said, ‘I was basically a suicidal alcoholic’. With Natalie’s support he found the courage to pull himself up again. He disclosed the abuse to a counsellor and then, as part of his therapy, he told his parents. They were ‘devastated’ but supportive.
‘There’s a very good chance that no one would have heard this story and I’d be dead 12 months ago – like, that serious – without a loving wife and family.’
Ben now feels that, psychologically, he’s ‘pretty together’. He’s even reached a point where he can spare a thought for Maloney.
‘I don’t condone the behaviour, and I think that anyone who is caught doing that, there should be consequences and there should be jail time and there should be everything else that goes with that, but I still have this thing that well, what makes a person like that? I don’t know what Maloney’s childhood was like.’