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Bevan Thomas's story

Bevan was born in the early 1950s into a family which, like its contemporaries, believed that ‘children should be seen and not heard’. Just after he’d started school, the family moved to a town in the Riverina area of New South Wales. His staunchly religious mum participated in parish committees and did ‘a huge amount of work for the church’. His dad often travelled for work, so Bevan felt the need to ‘step up and be responsible’ for the care of his younger siblings.

In the mid-60s, Bevan was sexually abused by two men on two separate occasions.

The first perpetrator was Reverend Stanton, a popular priest at the local Anglican church. Bevan was an altar boy and a member of the boys’ choir which Stanton had established, so the priest had easy access to him. Although it is ‘sort of vague in bits’, Bevan clearly remembers his own reaction to the abuse. ‘I got out, I backed off’, he said, because he knew that this situation was not right.

After this incident, Bevan kept going to choir but was on his guard the whole time. He remembers that he was taken to the doctor and prescribed tablets to calm him down, but neither his mother nor the doctor asked him about the cause of his anxiety.

Without explanation, Reverend Stanton was ‘moved mysteriously’ to a parish in Queensland. Bevan has no doubt that church authorities simply ‘turned a blind eye’ to the priest’s abuse of children. ‘I believe it was one of the boy’s fathers who basically blew the whistle on him’, he said.

The priest’s replacement was a man who would later be named as a perpetrator in the Commission’s public hearings into the Anglican Church, but this man did not interfere with Bevan.

The second perpetrator was a churchgoer named Reg Gleeson. He supported Bevan’s interest in breeding and showing animals, and taught him some of the tricks of the trade. Looking at it now, Bevan can see that the sexual abuse was ‘pre-conceived’.

‘We’d had a Christmas party for the … club, and he was going to take me home …. He went a different way, and I thought, where are we going? He said, “I just need to go out and … relieve myself”, and so we went way out … and away it went from there. At that point in time I had a full plaster cast on my leg. I couldn’t jump out of the car so I pushed him away, but he knew what he was doing.’

The club they were part of still displays a trophy dedicated to Gleeson. This ‘really sticks in my throat’, Bevan said.

Because he was growing up at a time when children were seen and not heard and cultural ‘pedestals’ hadn’t been broken down, Bevan felt he couldn’t disclose the abuse. He feared two things in particular: not being believed, and not knowing what consequences would follow for his family.

In his late 30s, Bevan’s first disclosure of the abuse was to his wife who believed him. When he told his mother, she said that it didn’t surprise her. No other member of his family has been told.

Bevan has had ‘two goes at letting the church know’. In the mid-2000s he met with a professional standards representative, and a ‘tired policer officer’, and learned that other people from the parish had also reported Reverend Stanton. Nothing came of his first complaint. However, almost 10 years later, Bevan’s second complaint led to him being put in touch with a bishop in the diocese who accepted his account. Their discussions are ongoing and at this stage Bevan is not considering legal action. ‘I think it’s too difficult’, he said.

Bevan finished school, completed a university degree and has had steady employment. However, there is ‘no question’ that the sexual abuse affected his ability to trust people later in life. His difficult marriage came to an end, and he only keeps a small circle of friends. He has also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and melancholic depression, for which he has sought professional help.

While Bevan is pleased that society is now able to talk about sexual abuse, he is dismayed that children are still suffering. He looks forward to the way in which the Royal Commission will create more awareness around this conversation, and is glad that institutions are now ‘on notice’ and have no choice but to ‘lift their game’.

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