Six-year-old Brendon locked himself in a toilet cubicle at his state school in rural Victoria. It was the early 1980s and the toilet block was an old one, located some distance from the main buildings. Brendon was terrified as three older boys – 11 or 12 year olds – burst into the cubicle. Two of them held him down while the third bit Brendon’s penis.
Traumatised and bleeding, Brendon fled into the grounds and hid for what seemed like hours. Eventually he told a teacher about the assault, but the teacher did nothing. Brendon received no help until he returned home.
‘Mum discovered what had happened, took me to a hospital, informed the police’, Brendon told the Commissioner. ‘And then they ended up doing one of the most ridiculous things … instead of getting information about the situation they just basically took me around the school trying to identify who had attacked me. To me that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It wasn’t taken seriously by the school or the police. It was pretty much buried after that.’
Brendon has lived with a strong sense of injustice ever since. He had a difficult childhood marred by domestic violence, and the effects of the sexual abuse are mingled with the trauma of drunken aggression from stepfathers and a life spent on the move.
The family left the town shortly after Brendon was attacked, but six years later moved back. He found himself at the same school.
‘The mind is a wonderful thing, it can lock things away that it’s not yet ready to deal with. But when I went back to that school, and actually walking past that area, these things started falling into place.
‘Most of what had happened had been buried in childhood fears and nightmares and it wasn’t until I had gone back into that situation that – it was other kids responding to me, because they could remember me running around pretty much starkers.’
Brendon felt re-traumatised by the memories, but he also better understood his fears. ‘I couldn’t go to the toilet … for years, literally. Even now, with my own kids, I can’t leave them, I just can’t.’ He had a very violent stepfather, but Brendon looked up to him because he understood his terror of public toilets. ‘I needed a guard to go do number two, so he became a hero simply by virtue of standing in front of the door.’
Brendon understands that in the early 80s his teachers might be forgiven for not knowing what to do when he reported his attack. But he is not forgiving of the police. ‘Taking a kid around a playground trying to find a perpetrator I just don’t get at all …
‘Those boys absolutely needed help. I’d hate to imagine what they did later on in life. Hopefully they learnt their lesson in that the police walked around and they were scared. But I strongly doubt that.’
Despite his traumatic early years Brendon has managed to keep his life on track. He went to university and built a career. He has been active in his community supporting causes, and he traces that back to his childhood troubles. ‘One of the things I hate is bullies.’
Brendon says he has coped by lying. ‘Throughout most of my life I’ve distorted history so that people don’t ask questions about what I’ve had so that I don’t have to deal with the emotional side of things.’
In the late 90s Brendon decided to seek help. ‘I thought no, I’ve got to deal with this, I’ve got to try and move on.’ He found a good counsellor and applied for victims of crime compensation. The small sum he received helped him get through university.
Brendon is hoping the recommendations flowing from the Royal Commission will be adopted. He believes Australia needs to establish a framework for schools to work within, so that the sort of attack he suffered won’t be possible.
He’s been keen to shield his children from the truth of his own childhood. As part of this he has not spoken to his mother for many years. The Commissioner pointed out that Brendon’s mum had done the right thing in taking him to the hospital and calling the police, and that in the same situation many parents fail their children.
The comment gave Brendon pause. ‘That has got me. Wow.
‘I’ll have a heart to heart conversation with my wife about that. When I get home.’