Gordan spoke to the Royal Commission on behalf of his partner David, who died before he was able to give his account of being sexually abused as a child in a private school in Queensland.
David was a student at the school in the 1970s and in Year 10 he’d gone to see school counsellor, Gerald Marsh, for career advice. Under the guise of teaching a ‘muscle relaxant technique’, Marsh then sexually abused David for nearly a year.
The abuse occurred on about 12 occasions and David described to Gordan a feeling that it was ‘like a blur’ and that he was ‘hypnotised’. During the time of the abuse David went from liking school to hating it. His marks deteriorated and he left before final exams.
David had thought of Marsh as a trusted person who was ‘like a doctor’. He didn’t tell his parents or anyone else about what happened until the late 1990s when he mentioned it in passing to a family member. As David subsequently told Gordan, ‘it hit me – I was abused’.
Gordan stated that David felt ‘messed up’ after recalling the abuse. For some time he’d been receiving treatment for mental health issues, and his symptoms associated with depression, panic attacks and anxiety worsened after he realised the full nature of the abuse.
Marsh had died by the time of David’s disclosure. As news of the counsellor’s offending became more widely known, David took civil action against the school in a process he described to Gordan as ‘brutal’.
‘They initially offered David $10,000’, Gordan said. This was rejected and David began to have trouble with the lawyers he’d engaged. ‘David was trying to communicate with them and they weren’t giving him the answers that he wanted, nor responding to his emails … He felt as though they weren’t working for him.’
At the end of the process David was ‘left with bugger all’. He’d had to tell his story many times during the eight years it took to finalise the matter and this had been re-traumatising for him. And although the final payment was $54,000, David received only $9,000 after expenses. One of the legal firms David had engaged early in the process received a significant payment though it hadn’t been involved in securing the settlement.
David told Gordan that one of the things he most wanted was to receive an apology from the school. He’d left messages for the principal but received no response. And David was sure other staff had been aware of what Marsh was doing to young boys.
‘The thing that David could not understand was, the fact of the matter is the principal and multiple other teachers knew what [Marsh] was doing and nothing was done about it’, Gordan said. ‘David even went to the deputy principal and made comments, and nothing was done about it. Other students did the same. Nothing was done about it.’
David came to believe that stress associated with the abuse and his civil claims process had contributed to his illness. Before he died he’d asked Gordan ‘to carry on the fight’.
‘Prior to his death, David told me he would like for me to share his experience with the Commission should he not survive his illness …
‘I’d like to witness a letter of apology from the school. I mean, it’s not going to help David but it’s going to obviously help me deal with it.’