Benson had everything going for him. He was attractive, intelligent and showed great athletic potential. His Catholic family, although not wealthy, lived comfortably in regional Queensland, and often had the parish priest around for dinner.
In the early 1970s, when it became apparent his sporting prowess was significant, Benson’s parents agreed to send him to a boarding school run by the Christian Brothers. The college’s reputation was strong, so at the age of 12 Benson was sent there to develop his athletic abilities as well as gain an elite education.
In Benson’s first week of his second year at college, his teacher, Brother Riley, would often stand behind him in class, put his hands on his shoulders and ask if he was all right. This continued for several days, and by the third day Riley’s hands would ‘fall down my shoulders and then rub past my groin. That’s when I became really, really uncomfortable’. At the end of that first week Benson awoke in his dormitory to find Riley masturbating him.
‘As I'm lying there just breathless, stunned, I didn't know what was happening, why it was happening. He came closer to me and whispered to me – it's haunted me for my entire life – "It's all right, Ben, this is how we treat our special boys”.
‘Then the second night he came around and basically tapped me on the leg and said, "Follow me." And then I would go to his quarters and I would have to perform oral sex on him. And then it led to rape … At the end of each session I would be beaten with a leather strap to be told what a bad boy I was. And the following day I had to sit there in religion class and listen to him telling me that masturbation is bad, it's against God.
‘I summoned up the courage to go and see a more senior Brother, Morgan, and I explained to him what had happened and he basically said, "Look you know, Ben, don't be stupid. Those things don't happen. Have you told anyone?" I said, "No, Brother”. He said, "Fine. Get off to studies now”, and that was it.’ After that day Riley no longer visited Benson in his dormitory, and Benson thought ‘Thank God, this nightmare’s over’.
Some months later Benson pulled his hamstring at rugby training and was sent to the school nurse. On the way there he walked past Morgan who insisted he see him after the nurse. It was during this visit that Morgan made Benson remove his pants and then molested him. Benson ran from the room and ‘spent the next four or five hours … in tears and totally cried. Someone I thought I could trust has now destroyed it …
‘That was when I officially died, like my life was over.’ That night Morgan sought Benson out to tell him, ‘What happened today is just between you and I, and let’s just leave it at that’.
Due to the threat of being stigmatised, Benson did not disclose the abuse. ‘You're a young kid in an all-boy school. I'm not being politically incorrect, but you know, if you were considered a homo back in those days it was a death warrant … So I spent the rest of my years living in fear and terror that someone knew, someone saw, someone guessed.’
From then on Benson’s sporting and academic performance deteriorated. He started smoking and by the age of 17 was ‘very much addicted to heroin’ and continued to abuse drugs until he was 30. ‘They might as well have killed me after they raped me, as far as I’m concerned. I would have been much better – much happier – if I was dead.’
After finishing school, in spite of his drug use, Benson married, had children and forged a successful career. But in the late 1980s, during a self-development workshop he and his wife attended, he broke down and disclosed the abuse. His wife was furious at him for embarrassing her, so he didn’t mention it again until a year later when he tried to disclose it more fully. ‘She said it was the wrong time. So I completely went home and got back into my cave and said, “No, I’m not going to come out again” … And then pushed it down as far as I could.’
By the late 2000s Benson could no longer keep up the facade, and within a short period of time he separated from his wife, left his job, lost his home, began self-harming and tried several times to take his own life. He also lived on the streets in between visits to the mental health clinic, unable to stay in the men’s shelter because it reminded him of boarding school. Eventually Benson retained a lawyer who helped him settle a claim against the Catholic Church, and he was awarded enough compensation to buy a small property in regional Queensland.
‘I just wanted acknowledgment and I wanted an apology. That’s all I ever wanted … They use all their legal mumbo-jumbo to prove that they haven’t admitted guilt.’
Benson reported the abuse to the police who advised him Riley had killed himself just prior to his trial for offences relating to other boys. They set up a recorded phone conversation between Benson and Morgan, but Morgan claimed to have no recollection of abusing him and there was not enough evidence to institute criminal charges.
Benson has been receiving treatment through a mental health service for several years. Although he remains emotionally fragile he told the Commissioner he and his therapist agree he is now ‘ready’ to start intensive psychotherapy sessions.
‘I was talking to the psychologist some time ago and I said, "At the end of the day, I don't want to die. But the reason I have attempted suicide so many times is I get to the point where I have nothing left. I have no resources, no strength, no will, no reason, and I've got to go, because it's too much for me".’
Benson is currently unable to work and receives a disability support pension. He believes perpetrators need to be held accountable, and now feels strong enough to speak out about his abuse in order to address misconceptions surrounding people with mental health issues.
‘I'm not ashamed of what's happened to me now. I was for most of my life. I've come to terms with it. If other people can't then that's their problem as far as I'm concerned. It happened. If I can help in any way [to] stop these mongrels touching one more boy and sending him down the road of disaster and ugliness, and if it means I've got to stand up in front of people and talk about it, I won't be strong, but I will do it.
‘The cowardly acts of these predators should not go unheard and the impact that their actions have on people needs to be understood.’