For Filip, living with the legacy of child sexual abuse is like ‘having a little electromagnet that you drag through life … you kind of collect shit along the way’. The magnet gets heavier as you get older, he said, so every now and then you have to cut the power and drop all the rubbish – which is one of the reasons he decided to tell his story to the Royal Commission.
Growing up in Sydney in the 1960s and 1970s, Filip was a sniffly child who made regular visits to the family GP, Dr Steven Millway. In his younger years, Filip was always accompanied by his mum or dad when he went to these appointments, but one day when he was 14 years old his dad decided to wait outside and let Filip see the doctor alone.
This was the first time that Dr Millway molested Filip, and it happened twice more after that. ‘You’d end up having to have your pants off’, Filip recalled. ‘And he tried to masturbate you.’
On the first two occasions Filip didn’t understand what was going on. Dr Millway said that the first step of proper treatment was to extract some fluid from Filip’s penis, and Filip trusted him.
The third time, Filip said, was the worst because by then he was 17 – old enough to know that Dr Millway’s practices were suspect but still too young to fight back.
‘So you’re laying there and your whole body’s screaming, “This is wrong” but it’s the parents that have taught you to override, like, do what you’re told.’
Filip walked home that day ‘feeling really, really stupid. That’s the stupid guilt, anger that you go through’. He decided to get some help.
Another boy might have gone to his family, but for Filip that wasn’t an option. He had already mentioned the abuse to his brother, who revealed that he too had been abused by Millway. After that they never discussed it again. Besides, Filip’s brother was too young to be of much use. Filip hadn’t told his parents and didn’t plan to. They were both European immigrants who had grown hard attitudes out of hard lives.
‘Post-war Europe. What they experienced was 10 times worse than anything we will ever experience so they weren’t very approachable. And if they were approachable on that it was always our fault anyway. That was their attitude.’
So Filip looked further afield and after speaking to a friend he got hold of a phone number for an organisation that he remembers as the New South Wales Medical Board or Health Board. Filip plucked up the courage to call them, told the girl that he wanted to make a complaint and was transferred to a ‘youngish guy’.
‘And within seconds he basically said, “If you want to make a complaint about a member … we will come down so hard upon you that your head will be so far up your arse you won’t be able to see daylight for years”.’
It was ‘pure silence’ after that. Filip doesn’t remember how the conversation ended. From there he went back to his friend and ended up talking to the friend’s dad, who was a doctor.
Filip told the doctor the whole story. When he was done, the doctor offered to help him pursue the matter but warned that if Filip took any official action his life ‘would be on hold for years’. So Filip dropped the matter.
Thirty years went by before he made another official complaint. His brother called him up to tell him about a newspaper article detailing how Dr Millway had been accused of child sex offences. The article asked for other victims to come forward, which is what Filip did, eventually appearing as a witness in the case against Millway.
After many strategic moves by Millway’s lawyers, Millway pled guilty and was sentenced to about 18 months.
Filip was angry at the light sentence but angrier at Millway’s attitude. Filip didn’t see it first-hand but his brother did. ‘My brother said that Millway just looked at him and smiled, just kind of laughed.’
Around this time Filip got an email out of the blue from the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), inquiring about his complaint. He was surprised to receive it, as he hadn’t made any complaint to them and didn’t know how they got his details.
Still, after a few more emails he decided to see what they had to offer. What followed, he said, was 18 months’ worth of bureaucracy with no action to show for it. So Filip rang up the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and said, ‘I want to make a complaint or report about sexual child abuse. How do I go about it?’
The response, he said, was terrible. The person who answered the call was completely thrown by the request and stammered for a while before putting Filip on hold for a long time while she fetched a manager. These kids of delays, Filip said, can completely destroy a victim’s will to persist with the complaint, especially if the victim is young.
‘You’ve got seconds to get that person on the hook. You’ve got literally seconds … She was gone for ages. That person’s gone. If that was me at 17 I would have been gone. I would have hung up and gone to run away and hide.’
But on that occasion, Filip held the line and made his complaint. Nothing came of it. He did, however, hear back from an HCCC officer who told him:
‘“That is not in my jurisdiction” or charter or whatever I’m investigating. “However, there is a Royal Commission being set up”.’
So Filip contacted the Royal Commission and booked himself in for a private session. In preparation for the session the Commission connected him with a counsellor.
‘That one hour was just to tell me what was going to happen here, but I said, “Can I steal a few minutes and talk about how I feel I’ve been affected?” That was the most helpful half an hour of my life.’
At last, Filip got a chance to switch off his electromagnet and dump some of the rubbish he’d been carrying for the last 30 years. He’s since made another counselling appointment and plans to continue regular sessions into the future.