‘I still have a dream, at least once or twice a week, that she tracks me down. And she’s just laughing at me. It’s set in a school ... She just says, “You can never get away from me”. That’s all I get. She just laughs. ’
Canice’s first sexual experience was with Cynthia Latham, a teacher at his Catholic high school. It was the mid-1980s and he was 16. She was a decade or so older. Although he wasn’t in any of Latham’s classes, Canice and other kids would go to her house on weekends to help her renovate. It was there that she would coerce him into sexual activity.
The first two times they had sex, Canice agreed to it. After this, ‘I said, “This isn’t right, I know it’s not right”. And that’s when she became hysterical, and started crying and screaming. I just sort of went into my shell. I didn’t know how to deal with it emotionally. ... So I just sort of kept going ... I wasn’t forced into it, but I definitely felt pressure.’
Latham would make Canice park his car in the garage at her house, so nobody would know he was there. However, she would also imply to colleagues that she and Canice were an item, and they had lunch with a staff member and her husband one time. ‘She was trying to make us into a couple ... I just didn’t know what to do.’ Another female teacher was also having a sexual relationship with a boy in Canice’s year, and the four of them had dinner together.
Canice didn’t tell anyone about this abuse at the time, but believes the whole school knew. The time he spent at Latham’s house would not have gone unnoticed, and he remembers ‘sly glances’ from others at the school. Latham continued having sex with Canice until he was 18, just after he had finished Year 12. When he got a job in another area, their contact petered out.
He believes that a sexual relationship between a male student and female teacher isn’t seen as ‘abuse’ by many people, and that if he told anyone the reaction would have been ‘good on you’, rather than any assistance.
He also worried about the repercussions if he disclosed to his parents. ‘I just didn’t want anyone to find out. I thought I’d get in trouble.’
Canice began withdrawing socially during the abuse, and became isolated from his peers. His schoolwork suffered, and he still has difficulties concentrating. He chose not to see any of his friends after they left school, and does not really have any friends now (‘I’ve never had a best mate’).
He has had issues with drug and alcohol use, and his sleep is very disrupted. He avoids conflict, and ‘I still feel like I’m that 16-year-old kid’. Experiencing depression and suicidal ideation, he sought help from a psychiatrist, but did not feel able to disclose the sexual abuse. He finds acupuncture beneficial, and is contemplating counselling. ‘It’s a process I’m working through myself. I think that if I go back, I’ll just target this abuse directly.’
Canice told the Royal Commission that the last 30 years ‘have been a disaster’ for him, with particularly difficult times since he separated from his wife. In their first few years of marriage he had spoken to her about his experiences with Latham, but not in any great detail. The day after his relationship with his wife ended, he saw an advertisement about the Commission and made contact.
He finally told his parents less than a year ago. His mother admitted she had been suspicious about his interactions with Latham at the time, and had discussed the matter with the school principal. The principal told her she was overreacting, and dismissed her concerns. It appears no action was taken – Canice was never asked about it, and Latham remained at the school. He has not as yet disclosed the abuse to the school, or reported Latham to educational authorities.
Canice decided to speak with police recently. He called the local station where the abuse had occurred, and they arranged for him to make a statement in a station closer to his current address. Although he was ‘very, very nervous’ before speaking with police, he found it was ‘actually good to get it off my chest.’