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Dennis Ethan's story

Dennis attended an Anglican boys’ school in Sydney in the late 1960s and was a member of the choir that performed at the church next to the school.

During the years that Dennis was in the choir, ‘there was a particular individual there by the name of Henry Williams … He was an old boy of the school … about six years older than me’. Henry sexually abused Dennis and other boys in the choir. The abuse began when Dennis was 12 years old.

One day during a break in choir practice, Dennis began talking to Henry. ‘He was being very persuasive about asking me to do things that I didn’t particularly want to do and so I obviously resisted that and … eventually after some persuasion coaxed me into accompanying him to an area [of the church] … and he abused me at that time.’

Dennis told the Commissioner that ‘there were many occasions on which this sort of thing happened over the years that I was there. Sometimes on my own, sometimes with others … I can’t remember every incident but I know it went on regularly during that period that I was there’.

Even though Henry was only 19 years old when he began abusing Dennis, he held a position as an accompanist in the choir, and Dennis ‘saw him more or less as a young adult. He’d left school. He had a job. He drove a car’. It was only when Dennis was in his late teens that he found himself able to resist the abuse, and it finally stopped.

Dennis believes that Henry targeted particular boys because he knew that ‘as developing young teenagers in a single-sex environment’ they ‘were doing sexual things with each other’. Dennis was involved in these ‘activities’, which made him a target for Henry’s abuse. ‘In fact, at least one of the incidents that I recall, was with two of us … where he encouraged us to do things and he would watch.’

Henry warned Dennis not to tell anyone about the abuse, but Dennis recalled that ‘I think it was obvious at the time that I wasn’t going to tell anybody because I would have been embarrassed about it’. Dennis did, however, discuss the abuse with boys that he knew were also Henry’s victims.

After a few years, someone reported the sexual abuse to the school. Dennis doesn’t know who reported it or exactly when, but he remembers being asked to go to the headmaster’s office where he was asked to reveal what he knew. ‘Then I did happily state what had happened to me and answered any questions very cooperatively because the motivation for … all the kids that were involved, was that we wanted it to stop.’

Even though Dennis and the boys didn’t like what Henry did to them, they ‘actually liked [Henry] in many ways’. Not knowing what might happen to Henry once the abuse was revealed, Dennis went back to the headmaster and denied everything he had said. Nothing was ever said about the matter again, but Dennis believes that Henry was simply told not to drive boys home after church services anymore.

Dennis finds it difficult to understand why no one asked why he changed his story. ‘I think it was very remiss of the school as an institution not to follow that up and not to do something about it, because I understand, through … hearsay, since then, that Henry went on to do these sorts of things to children in subsequent positions he held in other places …

‘They should have really probed a little deeper to find out why I’d changed my story and I really think they should have got the police involved at the time. I probably would have found that confronting, but I just don’t think they handled it very well.’

Dennis doesn’t believe that the sexual abuse he experienced as a child has had any major impacts on his life as an adult. Although he had some relationship difficulties in his 20s, he thinks that could be because of the single-sex school environment in which he was educated.

Dennis hopes that other victims will come forward to talk about Henry. He contacted the Royal Commission because ‘at least what I’m doing here could corroborate some other evidence you get from other people … I don’t know. If that’s the case, then that’s good.’

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