‘When I hear these things about the [Rolf] Harris case I get infuriated. I have to pull over on the side of the road and literally stop. Because I want to blow my lid.’
Benjy is ‘just so grateful we’re having a conversation’ about child sexual abuse, publicly.
When he was 11, in the early 1980s, Benjy and his sister were taken into care for a period by ‘a friend of the family, a deacon’ of a Baptist church in Sydney. The deacon’s name was John Cyril and he was much admired by Benjy’s mother.
‘To us as kids [he was] a very kind, trustworthy person.’
For more than a year, however, behind the louvered door of a room in Cyril’s home, John Cyril sexually abused Benjy.
‘I was told, “You do it to me, I won’t do it to your sister”.’ This was the threat that Cyril, who would be in his 80s now, placed on him.
It wasn’t until Benjy was in his late 30s that he overheard a conversation between his sister, Margaret, and wife, Cheryl, which indicated Margaret had also been sexually abused by Cyril when aged eight.
‘And so as a child, from 11 to the day I heard my sister talk about what she had gone through, I thought I at least [had] protected her. So that for me was the real hurt, the real desire to come here [to the Royal Commission] and talk about that.’
Benjy has not talked to anyone else about the abuse except his wife and recently, a psychotherapist, who was costly but helpful.
The impact of his abuse included school rebellion and, in his 20s, drug abuse. ‘If it wasn’t for good friends pulling me away I probably would’ve spiralled out of control’, Benjy told the Commissioner.
‘I’ve tried to push through with all that in the back of my mind. Sexuality issues too. There’s times that would come up as a feeling of “Are you gay because of this?” There was a lot of feelings around that, too, which I probably just kept inside and dealt with myself as best I could through the years.’
Behavioural issues and problems with close relationships are also now explained since he had psychotherapy.
‘I think the impacts for me after [first contacting] the Royal Commission … was greater than I realised … You look back on your life and think, “Why have you done certain things” … especially hearing other stories, you think how fortunate you are.’
Not long after the revelation that his sister had also been abused, Benjy ran into Cyril on a city street.
‘Life presents coincidences.’ He recalled how Cyril yelled out in greeting and touched him on the arm.
‘Heaven forbid my reaction – I pushed him and he fell over in the street. People rushed to his aid. I yelled out … “Effing pedophile” and walked off …
‘I knew that was a reaction within … that was the last time I saw him and he looked similar to the last time I saw him which was many, many years [earlier].’
A particular hurt for Benjy has been the disbelief by his mother about the abuse. ‘I think it’s more [she] won’t [believe it] ... Maybe there’s a guilt on her behalf too.’
It has only been in the past year, since Benjy first got in touch with the Royal Commission, that Cheryl has glimpsed his struggle. Cheryl, who accompanied Benjy to his private session, remarked that she can now ‘understand a little bit more’ that addictive and destructive behaviours, like gambling, are a side effect of his past abuse.
Benjy always felt that seeking counselling or other help ‘was a weak thing to do, something I just need to toughen up and get over’.
He has always ‘got through things’ but he can see how disruptive behaviour can get to the point ‘where you lose everything that’s close to you’.
Benjy told the Commissioner, ‘I’m thankful for the Commission ... It’s really helped me identify, [that] you’ve got to stop something, break that mould, if you like, to go forward’.
Education about child sexual abuse to potential secondary child abuse victims – parents, siblings and children – was a public health message, like vaccination, Benjy believes.
‘It’s a safety. It’s protection. It’s something that should be happening, definitely.’
Had he known he could have been helped by opening up earlier and seeking help earlier Benjy ‘definitely’ would have.
‘My daughter said to me, “You’ve got no friends, Dad”. I’ve had good friendships but I’m not close to my male mates. I’m closest to Cheryl’s brother … I’m starting to understand why.’
Benjy’s confrontation with his past makes him more optimistic about his future despite frequent bouts of ‘self-doubt’.
‘You talk about an open wound’ he told the Commissioner. ‘Sometimes I feel very exposed to that bacteria and it’ll just come up ... [but] I’m just going to push through.’
Cheryl also thanked the Royal Commission for normalising conversations about child sexual abuse. If her husband hadn’t heard Ray Hadley talking about the Commission on the radio, ‘I know that Benjy wouldn’t have gone down this path’.
She was thankful ‘that this is now going to be a normal thing, as normal as you can make it … It’s a normal conversation. It’s not a taboo conversation’.