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Darrell John's story

Darrell came from a close and loving family and went as a day student to the same Anglican school in Victoria his father had attended.

His father was a ‘very straight, very proud, very honest man’, who Darrell was sure loved his family but ‘just didn’t demonstrate that as hopefully we do now of our generation’.

After he was sexually abused by a teacher at school, Darrell couldn’t imagine telling his father about it, nor did he think about reporting it to other teachers who all had ‘an absolute awe of respect and infallibility’.

In the early 1960s, when he was 14, Darrell boarded for a year. During this time he went on a hike one weekend with a couple of friends. As they were planning the trip, one of the teachers, Carl Smith, decided to accompany them.

Smith had previously taken an interest in Darrell, ‘making unwanted comments’ about his physical appearance. As they were setting up camp on the first night, he instructed Darrell to share a tent with him.

‘At some time during the night I felt Mr Smith move closer to me. I was lying on my back and he put his arm across me and he started to touch and fondle my genitals.’

Darrell couldn’t remember if Smith said anything to him, but he knew it wasn’t ‘accidental contact as the fondling continued’.

‘I felt extremely uncomfortable and wasn’t sure what to do with Mr Smith being a teacher. I was overwhelmed by what was happening as I had never experienced anything similar.’

Darrell was finally able to push Smith away and ‘lay there for a long time and waited until daylight’.

In the morning nothing was said about what had occurred and Smith left the boys to continue the trip by themselves.

Darrell felt ‘ashamed, confused, humiliated and guilty’ about what Smith had done to him. The sense of having some involvement to ‘encourage him’ persisted then and later into his adult life.

Until the death of his mother in the mid-2010s, Darrell kept quiet about the abuse. He felt that to disclose it would be to shame her. His father had died years earlier. At the time of settling his mother’s estate, Darrell mentioned what had happened to the solicitor handling her affairs. The solicitor suggested he contact the school.

At that time media reports about the work of the Royal Commission and other disclosures of abuse at the school had come to public attention.

Darrell rang the school and spoke to the headmaster. ‘In fairness to him he couldn’t have been more positive, sympathetic, empathetic and whatever … I give him credit for what he’s done.’

The headmaster directed Darrell to counselling which the school paid for.

‘That wasn’t easy but it really removed the guilt, because that’s what you carry. And then we sort of delved into how did that guilt manifest itself in everyday relationships with my wife, with the kids, all those things, and that was probably the biggest shift, to be able to work through that.’

Darrell was aware that throughout his life he’d always had ‘an initial negative response to things’ and ‘a mistrust of people’. Counselling helped him examine these responses and his ‘wariness of new situations’.

‘New situations are new, they’re not scary, they’re not to be avoided, and the loss of spontaneity towards things over 40 years … the effect that that had over the years. And it certainly affected my wife’s relationship and a negativeness, a lack of response, of spontaneity, enjoyment of the moment, all those sort of things.’

The headmaster had also suggested Darrell make a report to Victoria Police about Smith. When he did he was impressed by the response of officers who were ‘very good, very sensitive, very compassionate’. After investigating the matter, police told Darrell that Smith had died some years earlier.

At the time of speaking with the Royal Commission, Darrell was in the process of making a civil claim against the school.

‘While money will not mean I can live my life over without the abuse, I would see it as a tangible recognition of what I and my family have suffered from this abuse.’

Darrell still felt angry that the school ‘did not choose their staff with enough care to ensure that the staff members had the right standards’.

He recommended that safeguards be ‘put in place to ensure that schools are safe places for young children to attend’.

‘As far as possible I want schools to have accessible processes in place should a child have a complaint to make about the teaching staff’s behaviour to them. I want these complaints, if they happen, to be dealt with properly and sensitively by the institution charged with the care of children.’

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