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Finlay John's story

‘We still have a loud voice, even though we don’t use a voice.’

Finlay was born in a regional area, and from the early 1960s he boarded at a government-run school for Deaf children during the week. When he was around seven years old he was in the playground when another student, Adam, came and took him into an old building and sexually abused him.

‘I thought that he wanted to show me something, but I realised he wanted to have sex with me in the boys’ toilets.’

Adam was in his mid-teens, and Finlay has since learned he has an intellectual disability. The incident ended when another student came in and interrupted them, then reported to a teacher who became very angry with Adam. The school did not notify Finlay’s parents about what happened nor offer him any support.

At the time, Deaf children were encouraged to lip read, and AUSLAN was not formalised. This meant Finlay did not ‘have the access to language that a hearing kid might have’ and lacked the signs to describe sexual abuse.

His attempts to tell his mother what Adam had done were unsuccessful due to this language gap. ‘I was trying very hard to explain to my mum, but she struggled to understand me. I gave up and kept it to myself for many years and eventually forgot.’

It was not until Finlay was in his 30s that he realised the significance of what Adam had done to him. ‘I just didn’t realise. I’d never kind of connected the dots.’

When studying at a tertiary college, Finlay learned about survivors of child sexual abuse, and came to understand that is what he had experienced. ‘I remember sitting in the classroom and it took me a while before I started to realise that I was a victim.’

At that stage he told his mother and wife. His mother was distressed to learn of the abuse after so many years. ‘It still upset her a lot and she felt that she had failed me. I have explained to her that I would never blame her at all.’

Finlay was also aware of sexual abuse happening to other students at the school, including one of the male teachers having sex with female students. It appears this man was later convicted of sex offences relating to one girl, and served a custodial sentence.

Another male teacher, Mr Davison, would take boys from the dormitory into his room at night, and Finlay believes he was sexually abusing them.

At one stage Finlay and other ex-students were approached by police and asked about Mr Davison. At first they were not provided with AUSLAN interpreters, making it very difficult for them to communicate and provide the information the police were seeking.

‘Some of the ex-students that I've met at Deaf community functions have told me that they couldn't understand the detective. This happened twice without an interpreter.’

The third time Finlay spoke to police he explained that they should provide an interpreter when speaking to Deaf people who use AUSLAN as their primary language.

‘She asked why. I explained to her that you will find more evidence with an interpreter than without an interpreter. Also, it would make a lot easier to communicate, as they will be able to express the emotions, language, etc.’

Even so, ‘they were quite concerned about the money, the cost of finding the interpreter, because it always comes down to money, that’s always an issue’. An interpreter was eventually booked, and the police realised how much additional information was provided when people could communicate in their ‘natural language’. Mr Davison was charged, but it appears the matter was permanently stayed, and Finlay is upset about this.

When Finlay’s own children were young he made sure they knew who they could turn to if they ever experienced abuse. ‘You tell family, you tell friends, you tell people in the church ... My children are aware of that.’

Finlay highlighted to the Commissioner some of the problems that Deaf people encounter with using communication systems such as teletypewriters, including that some rely on having particular English language skills (that are very different to the structure and vocabulary of AUSLAN). Communication is additionally difficult for Deaf people who have migrated to Australia, or who have an intellectual disability.

He recommended that Skype or another visual service be available for Deaf people so they can report sexual abuse using AUSLAN, and that education about protective behaviours be provided in AUSLAN as well as spoken or written English.

Finlay has been involved in cultural awareness training to help the hearing community better understand Deaf culture – ‘so we’ve got access equivalent to say other minorities such as Indigenous or anything like that. We’re also a cultural minority so we should have equal access, same as any other cultural minority’.

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