In the early 1960s Ewan attended a Christian boarding school in South Australia, where he believes a culture of bullying and corporal punishment paved the way for the sexual abuse perpetrated by a housemaster, Alan Jervis.
‘Jervis took a more conciliatory and less disciplinarian approach to students’, Ewan told the Commissioner.
‘This allowed him to take advantage of students … many who had been traumatised by the culture of brutality. They welcomed a more considerate and, on the surface, a more caring approach.’
Ewan said that Jervis would invite groups of boys to his private room after dinner, offering them snacks and allowing them to watch television. ‘Often during the course of conversations he would introduce stories with a sexual innuendo and any boys who responded would be targeted for further attention and sexual exploitation.’
One example of that ‘further attention’ would occur when Jervis entered the dormitory after lights out. He would choose one or more boys, sit on their beds, slip his hand under the covers and fondle them.
Ewan was abused in this way on about three occasions when he was 15 years old. He believes that up to 50 other boys may have been targeted by Jervis, some of them suffering more frequent and extreme forms of abuse.
‘With the lights out it was very dark, no one could actually be sure which other boys were being abused … Some victims assumed that they were the only ones being assaulted. As a consequence, they felt ashamed, alone and isolated.’
One day Ewan noticed that his friend Stephen was particularly distressed. ‘I was asking him why. He basically broke down and said he had been assaulted by Jervis and he wasn’t able to stand it anymore.’
After this conversation Ewan went to see the school chaplain and told him what Jervis had been doing to the boys. The chaplain ‘appeared to be shocked’. Ewan then persuaded Stephen to talk to the chaplain, and around that time several other boys came forward as well. ‘It sort of broke the dam, if you like.’
Jervis was dismissed from the school that afternoon. Hours later there was an evening assembly where the headmaster and chaplain addressed the boys.
‘The major message I recall coming through from that particular boarding house meeting was “hush it up, put it behind you, move on, don’t tell the day boys, we’ve got the school to consider and the school’s reputation to consider”.’
Ewan received a similar response when he disclosed the abuse to his parents. ‘My father was a very proud collegian, and he just thought “you get that behind you, you move on, you be a man. Don’t worry about it”.’
Following his father’s advice, Ewan put the matter aside, finished school, obtained a university degree and then embarked on what turned out to be a long and successful career.
Looking back, Ewan believes that the sexual abuse formed part of a broader traumatic experience that affected his life in subtle ways. ‘It made me pessimistic, certainly … I like to make myself a small target, so you tend to conform rather than actually challenge, and I was a person who challenged, and maybe I’m getting back to that, but I wasn’t for most of my career.’
Ewan has never made a formal complaint about the abuse he suffered at the school. He said that this is partly because he feels discouraged by the experience of his friend Stephen who started proceedings against the school in the late 1990s and is yet to receive a hearing date.
Ewan would like to see the school contact all previous students from about the time of the abuse and ‘set up some framework of compensation and counselling’. He told the Commissioner, ‘I’d like to see something happen here. Not only for the 40 or 50, not only for me, but also for the future’.