‘What I went to see Mr Dodd about was I was really afraid of the dark, which was just bizarre at that age.’
Emile was 13 years old and suffered from anxiety. He was not in a hurry to tell his friends about his problems. ‘There was enough bullying and crap going on anyway’, Emile told the Commissioner. ‘That’s just the way it was back then.’ It was Brisbane in the mid-1980s and Emile’s parents suggested he visit Alan Dodd, the counsellor at his independent school.
‘I saw him quite a few times.’ Emile’s visits spanned Year 9 and early Year 10. ‘You’d lie down and close your eyes and he’d talk you through the whole process of relaxing and then … after a couple of times he’d be like, “Okay we’ll just undo your belt and you can just relax and it’s fine”, and he then put pressure on you [with his hands] … “This is how we relax you and how we get all the tension out of you”.’
Apart from the stomach massages Emile also recalls being slapped when he started to query Dodd’s methods. ‘He hit me, he slapped me across the face … and he goes, “No, no, no, it’s good, this is what you need”.’
‘I thought what he was doing was completely normal, because he was the school counsellor and he was like, “This is how you do this stuff and this is how we get you to relax”. It’s like, “Okay, if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is”.’
Emile stopped the sessions one afternoon when he was in Year 10. ‘He always said, “We’ll go close but we won’t touch”, when he was putting pressure on your stomach. Then there was no doubt that it was a whole lot closer than “we’re not going to touch”, and he grabbed me and I freaked and went, “Yeah, okay, this isn’t - you know”.’
Emile told a good friend about the final incident with Dodd. ‘I said to him, “He’s just tried to…” and I basically told him what happened and he’s like, “No” and I went , “Yes! There’s no way I’m going back. I don’t know what’s going on there but it was really weird”. And I never went back and saw him again.'
‘I didn’t tell Mum and Dad. I just didn’t. I sort of thought, “What am I going to say to you?”'
‘Looking at it now that was probably part of the whole grooming process. We’re gonna get you here, and then we’ll see how you react to that, and if that goes all right we’ll keep going. I’m just lucky I got out of there.’
There were times during the counselling sessions when Emile recalls waking from sleep or a stupor. He suspects he may have been hypnotised occasionally.
‘That’s what I remember. Were there other times when I was fully out of it and other stuff happened? Possibly, I don’t know.'
‘You don’t really think at the time the damage that it’s probably done. You look at it and go, “Yeah right, some bloke tried to grope me and that didn’t happen and it’s all cool”. But then when you actually start to delve further into it you realise that it’s caused issues with your ability to relax, it’s probably a core reason why I drink too much. I mean I don’t know. Maybe it’s not, but maybe it is.’
Emile has also suffered from bouts of depression. He has been seeing a psychologist for over a decade and believes that professional relationship has helped him a great deal.
In the 1990s Emile met some old school friends who were struggling in life. He learned they had all been abused by Alan Dodd, some for years on end. Dodd was eventually arrested and charged with multiple child sex offences. He took his own life before facing court.
Emile was one of dozens of former students who approached their old school in the early 2000s. Emile is bitter about the school’s response.
‘It should’ve been a huge thing, and it just wasn’t.’ Emile believes the school was aware that something was ‘not right’ about Alan Dodd at the time he was abusing children in his care. ‘I know that some people went, with their parents, to speak to [the headmaster] about it. To say there’s something going on and it’s not cool. And he basically ignored it.’
Emile believes the school’s response to Dodd’s victims in the class action was self-serving and avoided taking responsibility. ‘They wanted to give everyone a bit of cash and piss ‘em off … all they gave a rat’s arse about was their reputation.'
‘They were quite happy to take fees for five years but there’s never been an admission that the duty of care that they had to look after kids was just completely – well they just didn’t do it.’
Emile hesitated before approaching the Royal Commission. ‘I’m still pretty much okay, but I just don’t want this shit going on for anyone else … something needs to be done about it. [The school] needs to be absolutely held accountable for this. It’s just disgusting.’
Emile wants to see one-on-one interactions in schools carefully regulated. ‘I believe totally there’s a role for a school counsellor … I also think though there’s got to be some sort of oversight. You can’t have young kids in a room in a very vulnerable situation with anybody - male, female, I don’t care how professional it all is, there’s got to be some sort of oversight there.
‘It doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked. [My school] is not the only place it’s happened.’