When his father died in the mid-1980s, Donovan was five years old. The family was very poor and life was hard for the children, even more so because their mother had schizophrenia.
‘She was very heavily medicated, but then once a year she’d go off her meds’, Donovan said. ‘And she would go crazy and then she’d be taken away, locked up in a psych hospital, and we’d be sent to live with other people for two months. That was the usual pattern.’
When Donovan was seven, one of his brothers started attending activities run by Kiwanis International, an organisation which helped families in need. ‘Adults would work with underprivileged children, and they would do things like organise camps and day trips, and take children to fun parks and things like that.’
Lachlan, a volunteer at a Kiwanis club in Melbourne, got to know Donovan’s brother and became close to the family. ‘He actually ended up dating my mum’, Donovan said.
All the brothers would be invited to Lachlan’s house – ‘he’d say it was just to give Mum a break from us’ – but Donovan recalled that it was ‘mostly me, and increasingly me’. During this time the man was very affectionate and would often give Donovan presents. ‘He exploited very much the fact that I was desperate for a father figure.’
A couple of years later, Lachlan proposed to Donovan’s mother. ‘It was all just a front. He didn’t even like my mum at all, to be honest.’
Soon after, Lachlan began sexually abusing Donovan. ‘He had me over to his place alone on a Friday night and just crossed that line. I think he’d been grooming me for a long time.’
The abuse went on for at least a year. To keep him quiet, Lachlan warned Donovan that if his mother found out, she’d have a breakdown. ‘He knew that, for us boys, that was the worst case scenario, her going off her meds and us having to go live with somebody else.’
But his mother did find out, from one of his brothers who knew what was going on. Donovan said this brother hated him and might have been jealous of how close he and Lachlan were.
‘It was not a good family situation,’ he said.
Donovan doesn’t think his mother ever confronted Lachlan because her mental health was so fragile. But he does remember them starting to fight a lot, and suddenly Lachlan was gone.
After being abused, Donovan said he went through ‘a huge change’.
‘I lost a lot of the things that I had, I lost a lot of confidence. I gave up sport, which I’d been very good at. I became very, very withdrawn. I felt deeply ashamed and very depressed. And I profoundly lost the ability to trust anybody, certainly any males in my life, from that time onwards.’
Even worse, in Donovan’s mid-teens, Lachlan reappeared. ‘After my mum died he became a major presence in our family.
‘For my brothers at least … they adored him, and just saw him as a very, very sweet, innocent man.’
As a result, Donovan said he became a ‘non-presence’ in his family. ‘Just would try to hide as much as I could’, he said.
Despite this, Donovan did well at high school and went on to university. But his adult years have been hard, and lonely. ‘I’ve actually never been in a relationship. I really struggle with intimacy.’
Donovan’s been getting counselling on and off for many years, when he can afford it, but he didn’t talk about the sexual abuse until he was in his early 30s.
‘I think there’s a big transition that you go through. When you first come to terms with it, it’s just so shocking. I had to really process a lot because this man had been like our stepfather in a way. And I had to acknowledge that all along he’d had this ulterior motive. And he only came into our family because he was a paedophile.
‘But since then I feel like I’ve done a lot of work to see it for what it was, see him for who he was. And I’ve sort of made my peace with it, in a way.’
Donovan recently reported the abuse to Kiwanis International. They confirmed Lachlan had been a member, but told him that the branch had closed and he’d have to go to the police. ‘And that’s all they said.’
He’s now spoken to a law firm and they’re looking into a claim for compensation.
Before Lachlan died, Donovan also confronted him about the sexual abuse. ‘He dismissed it as rambling drivel, and he immediately contacted my brothers and started to make sure that they were with him. He was a very, very cunning man.
‘And then my brothers sided with him instead of me, and I think that was a big relief to him.’
Donovan no longer talks to his family.
But when he spoke to the Commissioner, he described his state of wellbeing as ‘better than it’s ever been. I’m able to work now and have friendships. I definitely have a sense that I want to live my life, which I didn’t have in earlier years'.
Counselling and support groups have made an enormous difference to Donovan, and he recommended more money for mental health so other survivors can be helped.
‘I think just simply being believed is a major thing. It just has a profound effect.’