Clarke was six years old when Steven Tyrell started ‘taking special interest in me’. It was the mid-1970s, and Tyrell was Clarke’s teacher in his second year at an Anglican preparatory school, in suburban Sydney.
Clarke’s father had died, and Tyrell offered to help his mother, including driving Clarke to sports. Over the next year, Tyrell molested Clarke a few times a week – after school sports, on weekends, in the car on the way home from school.
Clarke would have to stay with Tyrell on ‘father and son’ excursions and trips, including sharing a tent. ‘I’d end up pretending I was sick and faking being ill, so I wouldn’t get put in with him.’
Tyrell suggested ‘taking me away for a couple of weeks on holiday’. Clarke was terrified – ‘I thought if I went away with him, I didn’t know if I’d come back’ – and burst into tears at home. One of his brothers spoke to him, and managed to find out why he was so distressed.
When Clarke’s mother was informed of the abuse, she told the head of the school’s Parents and Citizens (P&C) group Clarke would not return to the school. This man was a prominent lawyer, and when Clarke’s mother told him about the abuse, ‘he came bursting into the room, calling me a liar’.
The following Monday Clarke was taken to Mr Smyth, the school principal. Smyth also called him a liar, and asked him to leave the school.
The police were not informed, and Clarke was vilified.
‘They pulled me up at a school assembly, and told everyone not to believe anything that came out of my mouth.’
Tyrell was allowed to leave the school with good references, with the school saying it was his own choice to do so. There was even been a BBQ fundraiser held, to help Tyrell on his way.
Clarke later learned that by the time he was abused, Tyrell’s sexual offending against boys was well-known by the school community.
Smyth had certainly been forewarned. The day he started at the school, ‘He actually called Tyrell into his office and said to him, “I know you’ve been abusing kids in the school for years, and if you don’t stop doing it you’re out on your arse”.’
The P&C had also received previous complaints against Tyrell. ‘There were notes in the P&C meeting [minutes] saying that parents were to understand Tyrell was a warm, loving man, and if he was to touch the children, or rub them on the leg, it was only in a friendly, loving manner, and not in a sexual manner.’
Sometime after the incidents with Clarke, both Smyth and the head of the P&C withdrew their own children from the school. Clarke also learned of another teacher who had sexually abused boys previously.
Clarke reported the abuse to police in the late 1990s. Two more victims came forward, and their matters went to court together. He is aware of other victims who did not continue with reporting for various reasons. When police questioned Smyth, he commented, ‘If they’re worried about what happened to them back then, they’re pathetic’.
The criminal proceedings lasted several years, being restarted numerous times. Tyrell first dismissed his legal team, then falsely claimed health issues.
When Clarke’s own lawyer, provided by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), was moved to another trial, he was extremely angry. He had built trust in her, and felt like he was being told his matter wasn’t important enough for her to deal with. He called the head of the DPP, demanding they ‘stop fucking with my life’. After this, the lawyer was reinstated.
The detective looking after Clarke was fantastic throughout, attending every single court date and providing support above and beyond what was required. Even so, Clarke felt disempowered, and that the judge spoke dismissively to him.
The whole court process left him ‘shattered,’ and was also hard on his family. He considered suicide afterwards, and engaged in risky behaviours.
Tyrell was eventually convicted, but spent minimal time in jail after appealing a technicality. Clarke decided he did not want to go through another trial to try and have Tyrell incarcerated further. It was enough that he been believed.
‘I finally had someone say “you’re not lying, we believe you and not him”.’
For a long time, Clarke believed he had dealt with the abuse as much as he needed to. He had spoken to friends about it openly for a long time, and helped people when they then disclosed their own experiences of abuse to him.
It wasn’t until Clarke spoke to police that he understood the extent of the impact the abuse had on him. Clarke had started off as a promising student, but after the abuse his academic efforts declined significantly. He misused drugs and alcohol as an adult, and thinks ‘maybe I did a lot that wasn’t normal as I grew up’.
He had reasoned that perhaps as he is gay, the abuse may not have been as bad for him as a heterosexual victim. He now understands that his own adult sexual orientation played no part in the abuse, or its impacts on him as a child.
After Tyrell’s conviction, Clarke took civil action against the school, who fought back hard. Despairing of a result, he started picketing the school wearing a sign stating he was molested there, and dropping flyers about it in the surrounding area.
They eventually settled the claim, which he mostly used to pay off debts. ‘No matter what they talk about with compensation, it never equals what they do to your future.’