Duncan grew up in regional Victoria and attended an Anglican school in the 1970s, where he was sexually abused by teacher Mr Stevens.
‘I was between nine and 10 years old. That’s some 40 years ago, now. It still is an issue. The abuse occurred over some months … fondling my genitals in class … in the presence of another classmate … He also had me fondle his groin area … This happened on more than one occasion …
‘One time after class … he masturbated in my presence … and that was in the presence of my other classmate as well.’
On another occasion, when they were on a cross-country running trip, Mr Stevens took Duncan and the other boy to an isolated boatshed, where ‘he performed oral sex on me and had me perform oral sex on him. And then there was what was later called attempted buggery by him’.
While they were at the boatshed another teacher appeared. Duncan believes that there must have been some kind of collusion between the two teachers for the other teacher to appear in such an isolated spot. (Some years later, the principal announced at a school assembly that these two teachers were leaving.)
One day Duncan told Mr Stevens, ‘No, I don’t want to do this anymore’, and ran off. Soon after this, a note was given to Duncan and his classmate in the playground. Mr Stevens had given his friend gifts previously, and had itemised them and added up the cost. He wanted the boy to pay him back. ‘We were 10 years old … A hundred and ten dollars or something back then [was a lot].’
Duncan had not told anyone except his wife about the sexual abuse until he received a phone call from a friend in the late 1990s. Some former students had approached his friend because they had been abused by Mr Stevens, and had made a statement to the police.
Duncan became one of several complainants, and Mr Stevens was charged with over 50 offences. He pleaded guilty to some of the charges, and was sentenced to a short prison term.
The sexual abuse Duncan experienced at school led to a significant ‘mistrust of persons in authority … some difficulties in maintaining relationships with friends and partners. I have suffered psychological and physical effects, but … I’m a fairly good survivor as well’.
Duncan began having counselling in the early 2000s after he made his statement to the police, and still does ‘maintenance counselling … There’s a bit of a stigma in my mind about the psychiatrist/psychological sort of … in terms of feelings of weakness in having to do that … Going on and on about these things. It’s been 40 years … It just has its effects on everyday life, still’.
After the court case, Duncan submitted a claim for compensation against the school. The sum he was offered came with a proviso that he sign a deed of release.
Duncan asks ‘Why am I here? I suppose I’m here partly because I feel like there were other things that were going on with the school and perhaps there is a little bit of potentially revenge against the school. I don’t know … just sort of feeling a bit aggrieved still … But I suppose … I felt pressured to settle, because there was a whole lot of haggling … and then, bang, settled, done’.
He feels that institutions shouldn’t be allowed to insist on non-disclosure agreements, ‘that hide these matters away. It makes the victim, me, feel like I’m part of their dirty secret and I think it also perpetuates the feeling of shame for the victim’.
Duncan believes that the school ‘failed to provide a safe place for me, and despite the claims of “How can the school be blamed” … I don’t think they provided enough supervision of Mr Stevens and duty of care’.
‘I think schools should be obviously encouraged to develop a culture of responsibility and transparency for the welfare of their students. If they encourage that, then there’s a whole school protective mechanism for their own welfare. This is a school that had a lot of bullying issues … the whole culture wasn’t great.’
He told the Commissioner, ‘I think this is going to stay with me the rest of my life and coming here today is not about trying to get rid of it all. It’s just trying to make sense of it a bit more and put my two bobs worth in. There’s a little bit of me hoping that maybe a few other people’ll talk to you about the school … I’m glad I’ve come forward … [I’m] glad I could contribute.’