Eugene's story

In the early 1970s, Eugene won a scholarship to a Catholic high school in Melbourne. He did his best to succeed as a student and sportsman, and was also a talented artist.

During a sex education class, the teacher chose him to illustrate the lesson by drawing pictures of a naked man and woman. Not long afterwards, Eugene was asked by another staff member, Bill Mercer, to do some drawings for one of his classes.

Eugene said Mercer was a somewhat forbidding figure. ‘He walked around the grounds of the college with his two black dogs in tow and appeared formidable.’ So when Eugene was invited to his office and praised for his artistic skills, he went ‘from being afraid to feeling completely chuffed’.

Their first meeting ended with a hug. Soon, the hugs led to kisses. ‘I was very naive. I thought it was a game of dare when he asked me to close my eyes and put out my tongue and then felt his on mine. However, it felt more and more uncomfortable.’

Eugene recalled being very confused about what was going on, but he was also proud of the special attention and the way the other students envied him for being taken out of class.

Eventually, Eugene said, he didn’t understand what was required of him. Mercer became very angry, and their meetings stopped.

When they resumed a few months later, Mercer was ‘more daring’ in his advances. ‘He grabbed me during one embrace and I recall feeling not only terrified but a mixture of sad and embarrassed. I reached the point where I simply wanted to die as there was no alternative.’

Eugene wanted to tell his parents about the sexual abuse but found it too difficult. From then on, he said, ‘there was a wall up between me and my family. I was unable to feel any emotional ties’.

The summonses to Mercer’s office became more and more frequent, then suddenly stopped. The following year, they started again. Eugene made excuses to stay home from school. He began to self-harm, cutting himself and jumping off a roof. The abuse continued until one day, he firmly resisted. Mercer was furious, but finally backed off.

After that Eugene was left alone. He resumed his studies and got excellent marks, but his scholarship wasn’t renewed. In later years, this became a source of much unhappiness for him. In his final years of school his attendance fell away and he began to drink heavily. In the end he failed nearly every subject.

In the 1980s, Eugene told his brother about Mercer’s abuse, and told his parents a few years later. He started having extreme mood swings and sought help from a psychiatrist, but the medication he was prescribed made things worse.

He felt as if he got through life by acting rather than experiencing happiness, and at times was suicidal.

In the early 2010s Eugene was watching a TV program about paedophiles and Bill Mercer was mentioned. After some investigation, he was shocked to learn he was not the man’s only victim. ‘I’d always believed I had been’, he said. ‘It was easier to forgive that way.’

He started thinking more about his cancelled scholarship and decided to contact the Church.

Eugene said that they immediately assumed he was seeking compensation. He received multiple phone calls and was quickly interviewed by a psychiatrist, contacted by a lawyer and offered $50,000. In one meeting, the word ‘grooming’ was used to describe what Mercer had done. Eugene hadn’t heard the term before and was devastated.

The whole process left him feeling upset and uncomfortable. ‘By their appearing to focus on my wellbeing, by offering counselling and money, they seemed to be ignoring the cause of my anxiety and actually exacerbating it. I felt as if it was all an expensive diversion …

‘The compensation seemed to be too freely offered, even before I myself had realised the truth about what had occurred to me … At no stage did anyone ask me what it was that I wanted. For the record, I wasn’t after vengeance but for everything to be sorted and honestly resolved.’

Eugene is yet to accept the compensation. He told the Commissioner that he hopes in future the Catholic Church will ‘focus on the individual’s emotional needs instead of what feels like a “tick in the box” approach’.


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