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Clark James's story

‘It was always, “What’s the appropriate emotion to this? What’s the appropriate reaction to this?” Even today with regards to intimacy: there’s a wanting to be a close but there’s a want to be apart.’

Clark was raised in a Catholic family, living in a small town in New South Wales during the 1950s. His mother was quiet, and his father was a strict disciplinarian with a terrifying temper.

From a young age Clark learnt how to mask his emotions and hide things. He relied on his teachers at his Catholic primary school for emotional support, and also turned to his cub leader for advice because he was so frightened of his father.

When Clark was 10 he was moved from cubs to scouts, which was earlier than usual. This move was organised by his parents, who thought being with the older boys would make his transition to boarding at high school the next year easier.

Not long after joining the older scouts, Clark and the rest of the troop were invited to go on a camping trip for the weekend. He remembers packing a large bag and hiking for several hours before making it to the campsite.

Clark and the older boys were in one lodge, unsupervised, while the cubs were with the leaders. During the night Clark woke up to an uncomfortable feeling: something was pressing his legs and arms into the bed.

A group of five older scouts pinned him to the bed and pulled his pants down. He was forcibly masturbated by the boys using toothpaste as a lubricant.

‘It was totally confusing. It awoke all these emotional mix-ups of liking the sensation and hating the sensation, feeling betrayed and humiliated … I didn’t understand what was happening.’

Clark was sexually abused by the same boys one more time over the weekend. He had no idea what to do, and couldn’t tell anyone as he didn’t think he would be believed.

When Clark returned home he hid the abuse. Whenever someone asked him how the camp was he lied and said it was great. He was good at lying.

Several months after the camp had ended, Clark started high school and moved onto campus as a boarder. He left the scout group because he didn’t want to be around the boys that abused him. However, being at an all-male school took its toll.

Clark’s grades dropped dramatically within the first term. He couldn’t concentrate, was known to be defensive, and got into a lot of fights. Isolating himself, he didn’t have any friends. He felt that the only way to deal with the abuse was to hide behind a tough exterior.

‘I went from a kid who really enjoyed life to one who was putting it on all the time … Kids didn’t like me … It was very hard to be myself.’

Clark felt weak and ashamed, and thought that if he told anyone about the abuse that people would judge him and say that he would become an abuser himself. He couldn’t tell his father because he was scared of his father’s reaction. Several times he considered suicide.

At 15 Clark found solace in the Catholic Church. This was an eye-opening time, and he was able to forgive those who abused him. It was then he decided he wanted to join the clergy.

After he finished high school, Clark commenced studying to become a priest. For two years, he had never felt more connected to God and the Church. He felt ready to disclose the abuse, which he did when he was 20. Clark told another priest, who was sympathetic but didn’t know how to respond.

Clark didn’t know what else to do. The disclosure made him feel uneasy and the lack of response made him anxious. He found it hard to continuously be around males – since the seminary was an all-male institution – and could not complete his training. He left the seminary several weeks later.

After leaving the seminary, Clark found it difficult to find a career. His low self-esteem affected his decision making, and he often talked himself out of doing something because he didn’t want to fail. He has always been afraid that people would assume he was an abuser because he was abused.

‘I’m a target, I don’t want to be. Having gone through this, the last thing I want to do is raise my profile. I just want to crawl under a leaf and hide.’

It wasn’t until the early 2010s that Clark disclosed the abuse to his wife, who was very supportive and suggested he go to the Royal Commission. He never thought to report the abuse to the police as he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself.

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