Dion was sent to the same Catholic college his dad and his brothers had attended in Melbourne. In the mid-1970s, when Dion was in Year 6, he began to take individual music lessons at the school, taught by Mr Yates.
These classes were held in an isolated building which few people used – ‘I could be the only person in the building with him’.
Mr Yates would end the sessions early, pull Dion close and fondle his genitals. This abuse progressed to oral sex. Eventually it was arranged for Dion to be taught at Mr Yates’s home. It was at this point Dion told his parents that he no longer wanted to continue these classes, and Mr Yates did not sexually abuse him again.
Dion never told his parents about the abuse, because of their strong Catholic faith and his father’s loyalty to the school. He did not tell anyone at the college either, as he did not feel the culture there would facilitate an appropriate response.
‘The school itself had quite a strong sort of discipline culture, so there’s corporal punishment, this sort of intimidation that is established ... It makes the whole environment somewhere where you don’t feel like you have any power, you don’t feel like you can report – if you report you’re going to get into trouble.’
He suggested that children need a safe space where they can report this kind of abuse, outside of speaking with their parents or the institution itself. Another barrier to disclosing at the time was his strong sense of shame and guilt.
‘I think given my age, just pre-adolescence or adolescence ... The school was just starting to talk about sexuality, from the Catholic point of view, so what’s sinful, what’s not. Mainly in religious lessons and things like that. So I was starting to get a sense that this was really bad, that I was a participant in it.’
Dion told the Commissioner that he had recently read his school reports from this period, and they indicate that his behaviour and academic performance in class had declined suddenly. ‘He’s become really withdrawn. He doesn’t have friends. He doesn’t participate. All this sort of stuff.’
Nobody ever asked why his behaviour had rapidly changed. ‘It would be a red flag for something, whether it was bullying or family issues, or just getting in with the wrong crowd or even just the normal teenage thing going on ... It should at least be a red flag that there’s something at least worth looking into a bit more closely. But I never had any experience of anybody sort of saying “Is there any issues going on? Any problems?”’
Dion tried to put the abuse out of his mind for many years, and diminished the impacts it had on him. He had never relied on alcohol or other drugs, or attempted to take his own life – ‘I didn’t have any of those sort of problems, so I thought “I’m one of the lucky ones”, and came through it, and move on with your life’.
Not having had anyone he could turn to about the abuse at the time affected the way he interacted with people afterwards. ‘That feeling of being on your own is very powerful, and you end up being very closed off from everyone else, because you think ... I was on my own there, there was no one who I could turn to so ... and that feeling follows you through life, that you don’t have anyone.’
During his 20s and 30s Dion did not have significant relationships, and it was only within the last decade that he met his wife. ‘And that was really because of a very conscious effort to say “No, I don’t want to go through life on my own. I do want to have a family ... I can’t be defined by what happened as a kid”.’
When in recent years stories about abuse at the school began appearing in the media, ‘that lead me to think, look at what the consequences are a bit more. And suddenly started realising, oh hang on, a lot of these things really ring true to me, but also more importantly the things that my wife had picked up on and said’.
He recently disclosed the abuse to his wife, who has been supportive. ‘I’ve had a lifetime of thinking about it ... She’s only found out a few months ago, so she’s still dealing with all that herself. I think she’s sort of hyperaware of anything that’s going on.’
Although Dion was aware of the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing scheme, he did not trust the Church to deal appropriately and fairly with claims.
‘It seemed like they were just as bad to the people coming forward, and it was a process set up by them to address things that happened at their institutions. I thought that just is not right. You’re not going to get any sort of fair hearing ... It just seemed to me that their main aim would be to protect themselves, rather than really seek out justice.’
Dion has now engaged a personal injuries lawyer, to pursue a civil claim, and has had a psychological assessment as part of this process. He also attempted to contact a specialist police taskforce, but was asked to follow up with the school to get the particulars of the teacher. ‘I thought that was a very strange way of going about it, and I just wasn’t really ready to do that.’
Speaking about the abuse and its impacts, both to the Royal Commission and during counselling, has helped Dion understand his experiences in new ways. ‘It’s bringing up a lot of memories, but also gives me a chance as an adult to look back and reanalyse the whole situation. And sort of see it in a different light now …
‘This whole process has been my way of getting my power back. And once I made the initial contacts, then it’s been fantastic. It’s really helping me understand what happened and understand what the effects of what happened are. And just a sense of getting control back.’
Now, Dion can place the blame for the abuse right where it belongs – with Mr Yates. ‘All this time I’ve been protecting him inadvertently. Even though he’s now almost certainly dead, I feel like people need to know what he did.’