Craig Matthew's story

‘I always thought I was going to get over it. Always. I was positive I was going to get over it. But I just never did.’

Born in the early 1960s, Craig grew up in a loving, Christian household in a small town in country Victoria. He led a sheltered life with no smoking, no drinking, and no mention of sex.

At 17, Craig decided to pursue an apprenticeship. The nearest technical college was in Melbourne, several hundred kilometres from Craig’s home, so his parents arranged for him to stay at a government-run hostel in the city. They trusted that it would be a safe place for him to live.

But a short while into Craig’s stay, a staff member named Patrick Mitchell lured him into a private room at the hostel and raped him. Afterwards, Mitchell sat with Craig while they watched a movie.

‘I wanted to take off like a Bondi tram,’ Craig said, ‘but I was scared. And he said “Oh, you’re not going to tell anybody”. And I’ve gone out the door. I just ran like hell.’

Craig went straight back to the accommodation that he shared with some other apprentices and told them what Mitchell had done.

‘I said “What do I do now?” They said to go and have a shower. And when I come back from them – I was looking for them. In my mind I needed them. And all the rooms were empty and I couldn’t work out in my mind what the hell was going on. And they’d all been around to accuse him of doing it, you see. And when they come back they said “Oh, he’s as guilty as hell”.’

Two of the apprentices took Craig to the local police station where he tried to make a statement. The police didn’t make it easy. They were angry with Craig and berated him for being ‘a naive country bumpkin’. Fortunately they had the sense to contact a specialist sexual assault team.

This team, Craig said, ‘treated me with the respect I needed … they indicated to me that this guy was doing migrants over and that I was the first person that has come forward. And that made me feel a little bit better within myself’.

Craig went home and attended class the next day. By this stage the police had contacted his teacher. The teacher made the boys from the hostel line up. ‘He said “Well which one of youse was it?” It was so humiliating to just put up me hand to say that it was me.’

The case against Mitchell went to trial. In the courtroom Craig faced a gruelling cross-examination in front of his abuser who sat only a few metres away. It was like ‘reliving it all over again. Absolutely in your face. And because of cross-examination and all the rest of it, I understood some of it but it was like if I was the perpetrator’.

In the end, Mitchell ‘pleaded guilty of being insane and walked out scot-free’. Despite the unjust outcome, Craig left the courthouse believing that he’d closed this chapter of his life and could move on.

‘I always felt after the court case that I would get better. Once the end of the court case I’d know: it’s all gone now. But it never went away. It’d be like you’d just trip over in life sometimes and this would come up again.’

In the immediate aftermath of the court case, Craig sank into a period of crippling despair. Seeing that he was ‘in a bad way’ his mother tried to get help from a support service for victims of sexual assault, only to be told ‘we don’t have anything here in Australia, let alone for men’.

Craig battled on alone, trying to bury the abuse and forget about it. But it kept on coming up. He married young and soon encountered sexual problems.

‘Little things within that marriage, it wasn’t either of us’s fault. Like if Janine didn’t want to have sex I took it personally. Sometimes, to start off with, I didn’t want to have sex because I felt I was hurting somebody.’

More than three decades have now passed since the abuse occurred and Craig is still struggling with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ‘I was really bad this time last year’, he said. ‘I just laid in bed and cried for two weeks.’

Episodes like this, Craig said, are not just emotionally draining, they take a financial toll as well.

‘It eats into your personal life, it eats into your holidays. If you run out of sick leave you take an annual day off and then you’ll try and make yourself feel better the next day and pick yourself up and dust yourself down, and you want to get up and go again but if you fall over again and you’ve got to have another day off … you don’t have any annual leave, you’ve got nothing left.’

Recently Craig spoke to a lawyer about suing the Victorian government but the lawyer told him that legal action was unlikely to succeed because the abuse happened so long ago. Instead, the lawyer helped Craig to apply for victims of crime compensation.

Craig is now receiving ongoing counselling for his PTSD and is supported by his wife, who sat with him during his session with the Royal Commission.

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