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Connell's story

‘I was ecstatic. I was in Year 10 at school. If I wasn’t going to go there, I was going to do further study. The issue for my family was, okay you’re so young, you’re going away from the family for the first time and that in itself was quite emotional, and a change for me. I’d entered a relationship with a lovely girl, my very first girlfriend. And I got on the train and went … I knew no one, absolutely no one.’

In the 1970s, Connell left home to study at an interstate performing arts school. He was initially billeted out to a family nearby, but a change in circumstance meant they weren’t able to continue housing him. The school’s counsellor, Kate Gibbons, recommended he meet with a man who’d offered his home as student accommodation.

‘I don’t want to remember his name’, Connell said, ‘but she said, “Go and see this person”. And I said, “Have you spoken to him?”, and she said, “Yes, he sounds like a really nice person on the phone”. I said, “Oh well, okay”. I was given the address. I wasn’t given any other information but how to get there, and the time to get there. I knew nothing. All I knew was I had this address to go to and I went on my own. I think I caught a taxi, I can’t remember, because I wasn’t familiar with where the area was.

‘And I arrived at this place, went to the front door, knocked and this man appeared and he looked professional and you know, engaged. He was pleasant, invited me in. He would have been probably in his early 30s, made me feel comfortable. We talked about the place and he said, “Look, if you come and stay here you’ll be well looked after. You won’t go without anything, whatever you want”, and I was sort of thinking, what’s going on here?’

Connell said he was shown around the house and, after walking into the bedroom, the man closed the door and told Connell that all the students at the school were ‘poofters’. He told the 15-year-old to take off his clothes and then raped him.

‘I didn’t know what to do and I thought the best thing to do was just to be quiet, just do as you’re told. I didn’t know what to do. I had a shower. I just pretended everything was all right, and I was bleeding. I just held it together and I left and I went back … and I thought, this is so wrong, but it’s my fault, it’s my fault. This is what has to be. This is what you have to do.’

On his return, Connell told Gibbons that the man wasn’t very nice and he didn’t want to return to the house. He didn’t mention anything about the rape.

Another placement was found, this time with Len Bryson, who lived alone and was a senior manager with a large city firm. Connell again went on his own to the address and met and liked Bryson who professed an interest in the arts and seemed ‘plausible’.

The first school term with Bryson went well, but after he returned from holidays, Connell said he was in his bedroom one night when Bryson came in and raped him. The room had no lock on the door and the abuse continued over many weeks, until one night Connell rang his parents and told them ‘this guy raped me’. As they began making preparations for their son to get out, Bryson, who’d been listening in on the conversation, came into Connell’s room and told him he had to leave the next day.

When Connell told Gibbons that he’d been sexually assaulted, she told him he had to ‘get used to it’. She indicated it was part of the life he’d chosen and told him to ‘go and sort your sexuality out’. She also recommended that since there was nowhere else to go, he ask Bryson whether he could stay a few more weeks until other accommodation could be found.

Connell said the two men had answered newspaper advertisements placed by the school seeking billet accommodation for students. There was no screening process apart from a brief phone call to find out if the residence was clean and the people were ‘respectable’.

Returning home, Connell said his parents encouraged him to see a counsellor, but he didn’t ‘feel connected’ to the person and only went once. Reporting the assaults wasn’t discussed and Connell’s parents, although very supportive, told him he had ‘to move on’.

Connell told the Commissioner that performing had been his first love and though he auditioned successfully and returned to the school the following year, it was never the same and eventually he left for good.

As an adult, Connell had incorporated performing arts techniques and trauma-release therapy in his career as a health practitioner. He had a successful marriage and two ‘beautiful kids and grandkids’.

At one stage he’d rung his local police station to enquire about reporting the assaults but he was told he’d need to make the report in the state where they occurred. When he rang interstate, police there said he’d need to file the report in person. He didn’t pursue it any further.

Connell said the main thing he wanted was to know that abuse such as that perpetrated on him wouldn’t happen again. He queried child safety procedures for arts and entertainment schools and wondered who had oversight of them. He’d never considered seeking financial compensation and were he to do so, thought he’d probably donate the money to arts students.

‘My recommendation is to make sure that any person, any young person under the age of 18, is safe’, he said. ‘And have the supports there, not just the psychological supports, it’s got to be everything.

‘One of the things I’d love to be able to do - I’d be too old now - is to be that mentor. I now work in schools. … They are so vulnerable. That’s my main recommendation, to make sure anyone going through is safe.’

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