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Emil's story

Emil was a boarder at an independent non-denominational boys’ school in Brisbane in the 1980s. In Year 8, he had a maths teacher he didn’t get along with. ‘I’m guessing that stressed me. I started getting headaches and there was no actual physical ailment. And so I was just told one day that … they’d organised for me to see and see Mr Folkston.’

Ian Folkston was the school counsellor. ‘I remember there was a boy who knew I was going to see him and said “Oh, be careful, he’s a bit weird”’, Emil recalled.

Emil only saw Folkston three or four times. The counsellor’s approach was definitely unusual but Emil had recently seen the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, set in a mental hospital, and it had coloured his view of what therapy was normal.

At the time, and for a long time afterwards, Emil accepted Folkton’s treatment of him as just ‘a weird view of psychology’. Finally, only a few years ago, he realised he’d been molested.

In their sessions together, Folkston had instructed Emil to remove his trousers and underpants. Perhaps his shirt, too – Emil couldn’t remember exactly. He remembers feeling uncomfortable. ‘[Folkston] recognised that and put a towel over my lap.’ The counsellor then went on to touch Emil’s genitals. He also gave him acupuncture, which was ‘very painful’.

It later emerged that Folkston sexually assaulted many boys at the school. Emil feels he got off lightly. ‘Maybe the thing that protected me from him was that I had a [medical issue with my penis], and basically he told me to tell my mum, and get the doctor to have a look at it … He didn’t think he was under any risk of any censure or anything.’

Emil didn’t take Folkston’s advice about speaking to his mum. ‘I was too embarrassed to even mention it to my parents.’ When the counselling sessions came to an end, Emil continued to have occasional interactions with Folkston.

He remains grateful for one piece of advice Folkston gave him: he encouraged him to read books, as a way to help manage his stress. This wasn’t a notion he’d come across before. ‘As boarders, sport was the main thing that was encouraged.’

In general, Emil recalled the school environment as tough and ‘similar to a pack of dogs snarling’. ‘You had to be quick with your wit in putting someone down, because if you didn’t get in quick … It was just a natural thing of a whole lot of boys together.’ He remembered a couple of students who were gay – ‘Basically they were social outcasts’. There was no one he could think of who he might have spoken to about his experiences with Folkston. ‘I didn’t know who I could trust to talk to about it.’

It was also a culture in which boys were often not believed. At the boarding house where Emil lived, meat meant to be for the boys’ dinner was regularly stolen by the kitchen staff. ‘The students used to tell all the teachers but no one listened.’

Looking back he feels the school was more concerned with its reputation than pastoral care. ‘The school was and still is a very proud school, and so – I suppose looking at it all, the school was more worried about the appearance of things … There was no real system at the school for resolving an issue or whatever.’

He would like to see schools appoint someone independent who children can talk to. ‘I think children do need some kind of advocate. As a boarder you can go to the boarding housemaster but I think ultimately he’d got a conflict in general – I suppose in most institutions they do. If you’re employed by the school you’ve got a loyalty to the school … There’s a conflict of interest there no matter what.’

He is not sure what impact Folkston’s assaults had on him. ‘When I look back it’s a bit hard to know how it’s affected me.’

He was already experiencing stress before he saw Folkston, and afterwards it continued to be an issue, as it has been in the years since. Other recent pressures in his life triggered anxiety and depression and led him to see a psychologist, to whom he disclosed the abuse. ‘I suppose now I realise there are things I can do … I suppose in some ways it did help me.’

Emil has also told his wife, parents and siblings. His father, who came to Australia after living through World War II in Europe, was not especially supportive. ‘I think my dad’s way of looking at all this is, given the life he’s gone through, is shit happens.’ But Emil found his mother and siblings’ response ‘helpful’.

Folkston took his own life in the late 1990s, when police began investigating numerous allegations against him of abuse. Some of his victims have since received compensation. Emil is yet to go through that process. His wife wants him to, he said. ‘She thinks I’m a bit timid.’ He doesn’t disagree.

‘I tend to keep really quiet’, he told the Commissioner. ‘I lack confidence, yeah … I suppose what I did was I didn’t expect much of people. Later in life I realised if you expect nothing you get nothing as well … But I suppose the things that are closest to you, you don’t really talk about to other people anyway.’

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