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Campbell James's story

‘I would like people to know, and this might sound strange, but the depravity of what I went through. Because it is depraved, and it is disgusting, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone. But as soon as people hear it, it’s not like I’ve embellished it or anything, it’s just the truth and I feel like that’s the best recommendation that I could give, which is just to tell the truth.’

Campbell said he’s sick of people belittling what he went through at the hands of fellow students as a day boy at his Catholic boarding school.

‘I’m over hearing about “Oh bullies, oh the cruelty of kids”, or “Oh yes, that was terrible but they’ve probably changed” … No more of this categorising of abuse by the ages of the people. Yes they are children, but the effect is still the same.’

Campbell had some learning difficulties at his primary school in regional New South Wales in the 1980s. However, he did very well in Years 5 and 6, and his parents allowed him to choose which high school to attend. The family was not well off, but most of Campbell’s friends were going to a Catholic high school in the area and his parents took on extra jobs to afford the fees so that he could attend.

The students he knew from primary school were his close friends at the beginning of high school but, inexplicably, things changed and the friends turned on him. Everyone started calling him faggot, poofter, gay, and other hateful things. When he was in the locker room changing for sport, people would yell out ‘Bums to the wall, Campbell’s on the crawl’.

‘I had never even heard of these words, and coming from a very small town, as well as being only 12 years old, I had no concept of sexuality or even what those words meant.’

The abuse turned physical and a boy in his class who was bigger and older started hitting and punching him, leaving him with bruises that lasted for days. Others joined in and he was stabbed with compasses and hit with steel rulers. They would tip whole bins of rubbish over his head, put rubbish in his bag and locker, and try to strangle him with his tie.

‘The abuse escalated into outright sexual assault and molestation. The same people that incited the hatred began to touch my genitals in the most violating way. I was continually touched, punched, grabbed or slapped in the penis and testicles, leaving me in excruciating pain for hours.’

To get away, Campbell would hide in the toilets, which were filthy, covered with faeces and dried semen, and had no locks on the doors. Initially he would hide during breaks, then for a few hours, including when he was supposed to be in class, then for whole days.

‘Eventually I would get to school and not be able to go to class at all. I went for entire days without food or water as I was either prevented from or too terrified to come out.’

In Year 10, he spent almost the entire year in the toilets. He failed his classes that year and the teachers just put him on detention. Nobody intervened. He developed an eating disorder, thinking that people would see how sick he was and notice his pain. At one point, his mother asked if he was being called names. He told her he was and she went to talk to the discipline master at the school. His response was: ‘If Campbell fights back, we will overlook his actions’.

He said people had to have known what was going on. Teachers knew he wasn’t in class, and his relationship with his parents suffered. However, his home life was already difficult and sometimes violent, and his parents were having marriage issues, so nothing happened.

Eventually, mid-way through Year 11, his mother refused to pay the fees as his grades and attendance were so poor, and he was told to leave the school.

‘I found a community, but in it I was used and violated sexually. I was so numb that I had decided to sell myself on the streets, sometimes not even getting paid. I ended up having a total nervous breakdown and being admitted to various psychiatric hospitals.’

He was put on the disability support pension, out of which he struggles to pay his rent. He’s now on anti-psychotic medication, pain killers and treatment for panic attacks. He has frequent nightmares and sees his GP every two weeks, and his psychiatrist when he can afford to. He estimates he’s attempted suicide more than 30 times and that he and his parents have spent over $200,000 as a consequence of the abuse.

He believes the Catholic Church needs to work hard to address issues of homophobia and train staff to notice when children are struggling and speak out. He is angry the principal and other teachers did nothing to help him.

‘While they personally didn’t do something to me, there is no way they could be ignorant of all these other people and things that have happened.’

These days, Campbell is concentrating on getting better and looking to the future: ‘Things have changed and my family are much closer now, and healing. I guess I just think “Where to now?” I’m all for forgiveness but I’m aware justice is a process as well.’

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