In the mid-1980s, at age 13, Felix left the small country town where he lived with his parents and went to a Christian boarding school in Victoria. ‘This was the first time I had lived away from home, and moving into a boarding school left me with some apprehension.’
Felix told the Commissioner, ‘I never really fitted in, somehow … There was bullying, mild bullying initially … but it escalated over the three years I was there. I always blamed myself. People say it’s not my fault, and no matter how many times I hear that, if I’m being honest, I still believe it was my fault. I didn’t do enough’.
The sexual abuse that Felix experienced at the school began in Form 5, when some boys from the year below began grabbing him and taking his pants off. Sometimes Felix’s clothes and towel would be taken from the bathroom, so that he had to walk back to the dormitory naked. He told his housemaster, but nothing was done.
‘One thing that [the housemaster] did often say to my mother … was that boarding school was meant to be character building. It was good for boys to be essentially tortured. He didn’t use those words, but yeah … “character building” was the phrase generally promoted.’
One day, as Felix was trying to get back to the dormitory, five boys attacked him, and while four held him down, the other boy raped him. ‘One of the perpetrators approached me some days later and admitted to me that they had done something horrible, so I told him to tell [the housemaster].’
When Felix was called into the housemaster’s office, he was told that ‘they had all agreed to keep quiet about what happened and he could guarantee that I got 80 per cent in my classes if I kept quiet also. I did not agree with this, and told [the housemaster] that he had to expel the offending students’.
Felix wanted the offenders to be reported to the police and go to jail. Instead, he was asked to sign a contract saying that he would not disclose what had happened. The housemaster told him, in front of two of the school’s lawyers, ‘“I can’t expel them … [Boys from our school] can’t go to jail” … They told me that they would essentially destroy me and those I cared about if I ever disclose what happened’.
One reason why Felix did not tell his mother about the assault was that she was very homophobic. ‘I still do feel contaminated … There is no word in English that I can think of that really aptly describes that, but basically I thought that if it all blew up, my mother would kill herself because she would blame herself, because she’s the one who insisted I go to boarding school.’
Felix dropped out of school after Form 5. ‘I was so messed up in my head, I had no hope in hell. Basically I emotionally had a blackness, like a complete despair … beyond despair.’
Felix was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the mid-2000s and ‘at that point I realised that the illness I was enduring was caused by what happened at [school]. Prior to that I didn’t associate the trauma with mental illness …
‘I have no family. I’ve never been able to keep a relationship longer than about a year … I gave alcohol a fair hiding. I no longer drink, but I did … I abandoned cure or healing as a fantasy a long time ago … I am better than I was when I was younger, and in time I am improving, but I’ll never be cured. I’ll never be healed.’
For Felix, his biggest regret is that the school ‘allowed five sex offenders to remain in the boarding school for two and a half years after they confessed to raping someone’. In the mid-2000s, after months of negotiation, the school paid Felix a sum of over $100,000, in exchange for signing a confidentiality agreement about the abuse he experienced while under their care.
When he was finally able to report the rape to the police, he was told by a detective that the offenders had families now and ‘it’s not just about you and them anymore. It’s not worth ruining the lives of all those people over this’.
Felix said, ‘I feel empowered for the first time in 30 years because of what’s been going on with the Royal Commission and I still think it’s going to end badly for everyone concerned, especially myself, but it’s the first time there’s ever been a slim chance that it might actually do something useful …
‘The biggest mistake I made was keeping silent. Silence is the perpetrator’s greatest weapon. If we are to prevent abuse against the most vulnerable members of our society, we must overcome silence.’