Dexter knew every Catholic parish priest that came through town. He knew whose house they visited and what time they went over, whether it was for dinner or breakfast. It was something he paid close attention to when he was growing up.
In the early 1980s, when Dexter was 11, a new priest came to his New South Wales town. He found it odd that this priest, Father Eric Marshall, never visited the family homes. Dexter only ever saw Marshall at school or at the church for mass.
Dexter was 13 when the church held a Bible reading and sleepover for all the boys. He and his friends were excited to go; he remembers seeing it as an opportunity to get away from his parents. The Bible reading went for about two hours, which Dexter found fun. After that, instead of sleeping in the church, he and the boys went to Father Marshall’s house.
One of the boys didn’t have a sleeping bag and the other wet his during the night. Dexter remembers Marshall saying that they could sleep with him in his bed. No one questioned this or said anything. Dexter and the rest of the boys slept in the lounge room. ‘I woke up, walked out, and there were the kids … both of them were naked.’
The smallest of the two boys was obviously injured, and ‘was tucked up in the foetal position saying, “It hurts”’.
Dexter remembers the other boy looking fine, although he was walking strangely. None of the kids knew what to do, and Marshall was nowhere to be found. The boys said that the priest did something to them.
A couple of hours later Marshall’s housekeeper appeared and took the boys to the hospital. The other children all ran back to their homes. Dexter was upset by what he saw, so he told his mother. He was surprised when she didn’t believe him.
Marshall then started visiting Dexter and all the other boys at home. Dexter recalls being taken aside and threatened by the priest before dinner. ‘He told me I’d get into trouble.’
Dexter and the other boys were all talking about what had happened. He remembers one kid talking about it so much at school he got into trouble. Dexter kept telling his parents too, but they continued to disbelieve him, until Marshall was charged with child sexual abuse when Dexter was 14.
Looking back, Dexter finds it hard to believe that none of the boys who had been present were questioned during the police investigation. He explained to the Commissioner that he would have told the police everything if he had been interviewed at the time. He believes Marshall continued to abuse other children.
Dexter and the other boys went to court to support the victims. He was disappointed that Marshall was acquitted. What annoyed him the most was that the priest continued to visit all the family homes and assure the parents that nothing had happened. ‘He said that we were all going through puberty.’
Several months after the trial Marshall left the parish. Dexter remembers some of the boys tracked him down and bashed him. Soon after, Dexter left the Catholic Church altogether.
Throughout his teens and adulthood, Dexter has tried to suppress the memories of what he saw. He believes that the two boys were raped by Marshall, and has had difficulty trusting others because of the way most people reacted to the boys’ disclosure.
In the 1990s Dexter had an intense flashback of what he saw that night. He then went to see a psychologist, who prescribed him medication for his mental health.
‘Sometimes I can smell the dust on the ground and the pine leaves: everything. Other times it will focus on one or two things. I get migraines.’