Brett was a nine-year-old student at a Victorian state primary school when he was first sexually abused by his teacher, Mr Lidcombe. The abuse was so shocking and brazen that it stunned Brett into silence.
‘That’s the bizarre thing about it. In front of other kids … come up to his desk and then he’d sit beside you and put his hand down your pants. It was just horrendously open. There would have been two or three people that he did it to on a regular basis, and I was one of them.’
The abuse occurred many times over a period of about eight months. At one point during this time Lidcombe tried to ingratiate himself with Brett’s family. Looking back, Brett believes that Lidcombe was trying to groom his parents so that they’d trust him and allow him greater access to their son. Fortunately, that plan failed.
‘He took me home in his car. I think my father met him and he said to my mother “That’s it, he’s not coming back to the house. There’s something about him”. ’
At the end of Grade 5 Brett escaped Lidcombe for good by moving to a new school. It was a good school that offered Brett many opportunities. Sadly he wasn’t in a position to make the most of what was offered – by this stage his experience with Lidcombe had crushed his love of learning and made him angry and rebellious.
‘I was abusive to the teachers, I was always getting caned, not doing my homework, no study … I used to take my mother’s car, steal it, when I was 13, 14. I look back on it now, driving a hundred miles an hour down a bush track thinking – I was probably suicidal … I just had no respect. And no respect for myself. I always blamed myself somewhere. I used to think well maybe it was my fault.’
The one thing that kept him from going completely off the rails was his interest in competitive sport. ‘I credit that with actually giving me some structure. And I was quite good at it. That saved my life.’
Over the years Brett has experienced depression, failed relationships and major financial problems. He doesn’t know if these problems are a direct result of the abuse he suffered, and he’s reluctant to make that connection because it feels like an ‘excuse’.
Brett has suffered deep feelings of shame his whole life and he continues to suffer those feelings to this day. The first time he mentioned the abuse in detail to anyone was a few years ago when he spoke to a psychiatrist. He went on to mention it to his wife – who has been supportive and accompanied him to his session with the Commissioner – and to a psychologist who encouraged him to report to police and to the Royal Commission.
Brett followed the psychologist’s advice and spoke to a detective who informed him that Lidcombe is currently serving a jail sentence for child sex offences. Brett was happy to hear that Lidcombe was locked up, but troubled by the fact that he’d harmed other children. It’s ‘carnage’ he said. And Lidcombe is a ‘destroyer of lives’.
Brett said that the impact of child sexual abuse is something that never goes away. ‘It’s always there. That word “closure” really gets up my nose sometimes. You can’t close – or I can’t.’
Brett can, however, manage the impacts of the abuse. He said that telling his story was one more step in that ongoing process.
‘It’s been 45 years coming. Not that it’s the end of the road but it’s certainly important that someone else in my life actually knows what’s going on without having to hide it.’