Edwin Peter can’t recall his real mother – she gave him up when he was nine months old. But one of his early powerful memories is how at age five, he declared to his adoptive parents in Sydney that ‘I knew I wasn’t theirs’.
That wasn’t a good move. Edwin believes this made them so angry – ‘it shattered the illusion that they had a family’ – that it helped precipitate the years of violence and sexual abuse that followed. His father would beat him and then console him with inappropriate sexual contact, involving kisses and fondling. Then there were ‘my mother’s frenzied attempts to discipline me’.
From the age of seven, this meant anally penetrating him with various objects, treatment that left him with scars that still cause intense pain. She would also physically and emotionally abuse Edwin by locking him in a room for days without access to food or a toilet, and by threatening to stab him with knives.
‘To stop my parents I used to cut myself. Then they took all the implements away and thrashed me for it. So, instead of cutting myself, I excoriated – brushing with a wire brush until you bleed, so you make yourself as ghastly to your abuser as you possibly can.’
Sadly, there were new abusers waiting who would not be easily deterred. ‘When I was about seven, I became an altar boy. That’s when I encountered a priest named John Smith. I saw him as an opportunity to escape – I often dreamt that I would escape from my family.’
Instead, Smith became another tormenter. ‘The abuse consisted of fondling my genitals, cupping my testicles and rubbing them with his hands.
‘He would approach me from behind when I was about to put on my robe. I was often naked underneath – I would remove my pants so as to wear only shorts under the robe as it was always warm in the altar boy garb.’
By the time Edwin was nine, the attacks became more intense. ‘The abuse increased to include the penetration of my anus with his fingers … Quite often he would have me masturbate him. At times he would masturbate us both.
‘He slowly built from gentle kissing and fondling to penetration. Twice he tried to rape me; however, due to the damage already inflicted on my anal passage, he was unsuccessful.’
Edwin tried to seek help from an adult he could trust. ‘When I was about 10, I told my football coach about what I experienced at home. This man was a police officer, I was hoping to get some help.
‘He’d noticed I had missed lots of training sessions. I told him that my father would often beat me until I could no longer breathe, or until I lost consciousness. This was especially bad after he had been drinking or betting at the races, or drinking with Father Smith.
‘But nothing came of it. No one came to protect me. And no one ever asked me questions about what I told him.’
And no one pursued any inquiry when Edwin was brought to medical authorities after a battering, even though it was clear his father was lying. ‘I was hospitalised four times. On one occasion the doctor confronted my father, telling him “This is not an asthma attack”, which is what they’d passed it off as.’
Once Edwin tried to use the confessional to signal what was happening, but the results were disastrous. The school sent classes to a local church, so the boys would be lined up waiting their turn with the parish priest.
‘I confessed to having sex, and repeated over and over, “I know that it’s a moral sin”. The kids outside could hear me, and they were tittering. The priest wouldn’t say anything.’ However, Edwin suspects that priest discussed the revelation with Father Smith; in any event, Edwin was banned from attending confession at that church.
In desperation, Edwin even turned to his abusive father, telling him while they were driving one day about the conduct of Father Smith. ‘He didn’t want to know.’
When Edwin was 12, he was molested by a Christian Brother named Thomas, who used to watch the boys while they were naked and showering. On one occasion, he took advantage of Edwin being alone in the shower block and attempted to grope him, ‘but he was a small man and I’d matured early, so I backed him off’.
Over the ensuing decades Edwin couldn’t bring himself to fully share his past with anyone, even the wife from whom he is now separated and with whom he has two young children. In the early 2010s, he approached the Bravehearts child protection organisation, and the following year spoke with a law firm. Then, six weeks before he visited the Commission, Edwin began a discussion with police.
The Commissioner urged him to pace any such actions, for Edwin was clearly distressed as he relived his early days. As he concluded, ‘I’ve got low self-esteem, guilt, sleeping disorders, repeated nightmares about cutting off my hands, lack of trust, issues around sexuality …
‘My whole life I’ve been at pains to bury, not unearth what I went through. And I wouldn’t urge anyone to do that, ’cause if you don’t treat the wound properly the first time round, it just becomes infected.
‘The trouble is, I’ve never been a child: I’ve been an adult since I was five years old.’