Gavin met an athletic, cheerful and extremely confident teacher called Mr Morris at a school holiday camp in central New South Wales. Gavin had finished Year 7 and it was the summer holidays.
‘I just thought this guy was it, for whatever reason. He was like “God has arrived”… the perfect role model, the perfect human being.’ Gavin’s own father was judgmental and occasionally physically violent so it was easy for Morris to step in as a father figure.
‘I just looked up to him. You could do no wrong in his eyes, not that you wanted to, because you sort of wanted to not upset him.’
Everyone liked Mr Morris. And he made Gavin, and a few other select kids, feel special and really valued.
One night Morris came into Gavin’s sleeping quarters in the camp. Gavin was lying in the top bunk. Morris put his hand under Gavin’s bed sheet and touched his genitals. Gavin froze. ‘I was quite terrified, didn’t know what to do.’
Gavin spent a sleepless night, desperate to go to the toilet but too scared to leave his bed. The next day Morris was as chirpy as ever. Gavin told him he hadn’t wanted to leave his bed in case he disturbed his bunk mate. Morris told him how considerate he was.
The second time he was abused, all the kids in the camp were on a bushwalk. Morris and his little group of favourite boys were at the tail end of the group. The boys started mucking around and chucking rocks at each other. Gavin was struck on the head and started bleeding slightly. Mr Morris sent the others on ahead and sat down next to Gavin as though he was about to give him first aid.
Instead, he sexually abused Gavin by engaging in mutual oral sex and masturbation with him.
‘Eventually we went back to the camp and life went on. I became confused … the whole thing just became a mess … After the camp I went home and I became hyperactive and just crazy.’
Things went downhill very quickly for Gavin.
‘I became a class clown. My behaviour became inane. My concentration was poor. My interest in sports just diminished. My grades were absolutely shocking. My behaviour was shocking but I was angry. I was full of anxiety. And I was very fearful and … just became a mess.’
His parents could see something was wrong. But Gavin clammed up. His mother said later, ‘We asked you and you just wouldn’t talk’. Not long after he came home from camp, Mr Morris tried to ring him. But Gavin’s father picked up the phone and after just a few sentences realised what was going on. He told Morris ‘to get the hell out or there’d be trouble’.
But Morris didn’t leave it at that. He wrote a letter to Gavin which his father intercepted. He took it to Gavin, made him read it and then asked him what was wrong with it. Gavin said he didn’t know. He made him read it again and then again. Gavin still said that he didn’t know.
He doesn’t remember now what was in the letter but he does know that it was fairly explicit. He was sent to his room as punishment but his father came in later to console him. He told Gavin that there were bad men out there. ‘They’ll want to play with your willy. They’re not good people.’
For some reason, Gavin remembers, he found that funny. But he’s very grateful to his father for then taking the letter to the police, even though nothing came of it.
Gavin buried the whole incident and got on with his life. His parents didn’t get help for him and never mentioned it again. He was just thought of as a bad child. After he finished school he got a job where he could travel. He started drinking too much, smoking marijuana and keeping to himself.
Gavin has been getting psychological help. It was ineffective at first but for the last 10 years or so, his counselling has been more productive. Holding down jobs has been hard for him but he plans to get something more permanent to get some continuity.
Gavin would love to get married and have kids. ‘Maybe one day but … at the moment it’s just trying to fix myself.’
He’s been trying to remember his abuser’s name. He did report the abuse to the police a few years ago but no action was taken.
One of Gavin’s strongest recommendations to the Commission was that children get help ‘as soon as humanly possible’ if abuse happens. Teachers should get specialised training so that they can spot the signs of sexual abuse in a child.
He also believes teachers should report other teachers who they think are behaving inappropriately.
‘Nobody wants to know about it … it’s one of those yuck subjects. But if you ask any woman what the biggest fear is for their child to succumb to, apart from homicide, it’s sexual abuse.’