Christopher John's story

‘I was a little bit vulnerable and underprivileged in some respects.’

Born in the late 1940s, Christopher grew up in a family damaged by the ‘extreme alcoholism’ of his parents. Both had died by the time he was 13. He was made a ward of the state and placed in the care of his sister, who was about five years older. She had mental health problems and was ‘really incapable of looking after me’.

Christopher found it ‘strange that the child welfare people left me with her in the family home’.

Christopher was ‘reasonably bright’ but lasted only a few months at his government high school in Sydney. The ‘complete poverty’ at home meant he had to work when he could, so from a young age he laboured long days at his job. Eventually the father of a friend intervened, and helped him to enrol at another high school, where he managed to pass all his subjects. He left school at 15.

From the time he was eight, Christopher went regularly to the local Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC). ‘It was like a second home to me. I used to go there three or four times a week for years.’ He got involved in a range of sports, and Vernon Routledge was one of his instructors.

Routledge was boarding with a local family at the time. The two sons in the family were regulars at the PCYC.

One day Routledge took Christopher and the two boys for a boat ride. When they’d rowed out a little way, Routledge sat Christopher on his knee and masturbated him. ‘The reaction of the two boys was, “Oh … here we go again”.’ Subsequently, Christopher learned from the boys that Routledge was sexually abusing them both.

Christopher was about nine when Routledge first abused him, and about 13 when the abuse came to an end. It began before his mother’s death and carried on until after his father’s. Christopher’s family circumstances were known at the club, and they made him an easy target for Routledge.

‘I didn’t always have food at home … I was often hungry and he’d take me for a hamburger or something and then after that there’d be sex. That was the beginning … The activity was going on for a few years, and on many occasions he totally anally raped me.’

The abuse often took place at a local park, and several times Routledge took Christopher and other boys away on holiday. Christopher recalled an episode on one of these holidays where other boys witnessed his abuse. ‘I remember we were laying on top of the bed. [Routledge] had had sex with me – anal sex – and the door was open, and [the other boys] came to the door, and I remember I was quite humiliated. He had his penis in between my two legs …’

The other boys didn’t say or do anything. On this and other holidays, they weren’t assaulted. ‘I was the only one he did touch.’

Christopher didn’t report what was happening to anyone.

‘I never made any complaint about him, because I saw him as in a position of authority, and he had complete psychological dominion over me. And at the time I was terribly vulnerable – terribly vulnerable … I thought I was doing something wrong.’

He believes, however, that eventually the club got to know what was going on. One day he was invited by the police officer in charge to ‘have a little chat’. The officer asked if there was anything Christopher needed to tell him – Christopher said “No”. He asked if everything was okay – Christopher said “Yes”.

‘If he had specifically put it to me – I don’t know if he was alluding to that or not, but I certainly did get the sense that something was happening in the club’, Christopher told the Commissioner. ‘If I’d been pressed a little more I might have told them. But I wasn’t game to – especially a police officer – I was frightened of them in those days.’

Routledge disappeared shortly after that. Christopher doesn’t know what happened to him. He has never reported Routledge to anyone, and doesn’t plan to. ‘It’s so long ago, and I believe he is probably dead or close to it – it’s so long ago, I probably can’t see the point to it.’

He does feel though if he wanted to take further action, he should be able to.

‘One thing I would like to see, and it’s not only just in relation to myself, I do believe that something should be done about the statute of limitations so that people who have been abused have some recourse retrospectively.’

In reflecting on his childhood, Christopher told the Commissioner, ‘My early childhood was so unstable, I craved stability.’ He and his wife have been married for over 40 years, and he now has enduring friendships. He has also been an inveterate student, gaining multiple qualifications as he developed his career.

He first disclosed the abuse to his wife about 20 years after they married. But he didn’t tell her much at that time.

‘To me it was something I’d packed away. I was a bit ashamed of it … It was really when the Royal Commission came up that I opened up and told her a bit …

‘It helps to bare your soul to your partner. It took all those years … I’d told her everything about myself except that. When I did – it was good to tell her.’

For her, he said, ‘I think it was a complete revelation … Strangely enough I’m a very loving person – it hasn’t affected my ability to love’.

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