In the early 1990s, the man who sexually abused Carl in the late 1970s was charged with multiple child sex offences. For the first time, Carl - by then in his mid-20s - realised he was just one of many children sexually abused by the man, Father Peter Voake. The knowledge was ‘a relief in one way but it really made me sad in another’, Carl told the Commissioner.
Carl had learned about the charges from a newspaper article his mother gave him to read. There was also a picture of Voake. Seeing it triggered long-buried emotion.
‘I broke down crying. She said, “You as well?” That was really sad … That was a really hard time.’ Carl hadn’t revealed his story to anyone till then. His mother felt the abuse was her fault.
‘I’ve tried to placate that feeling in her – but nothing ever will.’
Carl’s family had met Voake while they were on holiday, near the small Victorian town where they lived. Voake was a parish priest in the area, and was brought to visit Carl’s family by mutual friends. The family was staunchly Catholic and trusted Voake immediately – so much so that when family arrangements meant 13-year-old Carl needed somewhere to stay for a few days, Carl’s mother accepted Voake’s offer to look after him.
The plan was that Voake would take Carl to his home, where he could enjoy himself with other children who were staying there. He arrived one morning in his car to collect Carl. They hadn’t been driving for long when Voake began touching and rubbing Carl’s leg. ‘At that stage of my life it was a real shock and it was really quite scary. Looking back now – I just totally froze.’
Voake continued to drive, eventually masturbating Carl and making Carl masturbate him, chatting as he did so. ‘I felt sick at this time and could not even answer his questions with grunts. I just wanted him to stop what he was doing. To my horror my penis was hard’, Carl wrote in a statement. ‘I felt betrayed by my body.’ The embarrassment this caused him ‘is part of the reason I could never tell anyone’.
The abuse continued that night. The other children staying with Voake slept in the main house. Carl’s room was in separate accommodation. After Carl had been in bed for a while, Voake came in.
‘That was when he got undressed, got in bed with me, and then started touching me … Making me touch him.’ Eventually Voake turned Carl over and tried to rape him. ‘I was kicking and screaming at this stage – it was a matter of survival.’ Finally Voake gave up and left. The next day there was no mention of what had occurred.
Voake didn’t try to assault Carl again. Delivered back to his parents, Carl didn’t say anything. ‘I didn’t tell my mother; she was a devout Catholic and I didn’t know at the time if she would have believed me, I’m not sure. My father would have possibly gone to kill him so I didn’t tell him either ... That’s when the journey of denial and quiet started.’
Even now, he can’t imagine who he could have told at the time.
‘Looking back I go – yeah, I could have gone to my parents, my mother, but I really don’t know what the hell she would have done, or what she would have said, or how she would have accessed help’, he said.
‘I never had that feeling of there being any assistance and looking back now I still can’t see where that assistance would have come from ... I just thought the best defence was to shut it out.’
Carl believes the abuse had several major consequences for him. ‘I’ve been a very closed person in many ways, in my life, because I didn’t want to let people know about that part of my life but also I didn’t want to set myself up for any other sort of emotional abuse.’ It affected his ability to form bonds with men – he has many women friends, ‘but I’ve always been very wary of males’.
And he has felt its impact in his working life. ‘As soon as I achieve [an ambition] I don’t do it anymore. And I don’t like to get too close to the people who are doing it. So I have a lot of aspirations, and plenty of ideas, but I don’t continue them on.’
Voake is now in jail. Carl recently reported his abuse to police, to add to a list of possible new charges. He has spoken to a lawyer and may seek restitution from the Church. ‘Yes, I think some sort of restitution is in order … but I’m not in any rush. I think dealing with my own life and my own emotions is probably more important in a short term way.’
Carl has come to understand that he didn’t really have a chance against Voake. There were gifts and treats, and pressure to remain silent. ‘I would be the one betraying, I would be the one causing damage to his reputation if I was to say anything … All the little tricks, when I look at it now. They were things he would have used so many times.’
Carl is a father and sees that as an adult he can quite easily manipulate his kids to do things, such as jobs around the house. ‘You can see how someone can use that in a pathological way … A child thinking about a problem at 13 years is going to get smashed out of the water every time, because they just don’t know the tricks … And you don’t see them coming’, he explained.
‘And then you sit there going – well, what just happened? And that’s really how I felt at the time.’
He had come to the Royal Commission because he felt he shouldn’t just rely on others to share their experiences. ‘If I wasn’t prepared to tell my story, then why should anyone else?’ He believed it would help him put his abuse behind him.
‘It’s about me being able to move on, and not having to think about it, and be ashamed of it and embarrassed about it.’
More generally, there was just one outcome he hoped for. ‘The only thing I really want from a Royal Commission point of view is that we make things safer. My kids are in scouts, my kids are in footy clubs, and they play cricket and they play netball, and they do things – I just want them to have a healthy, unhindered childhood … That’s my wish. Not just my kids – kids everywhere.’