Gordon Peter's story

After his parents separated and his mother started working full time, Gordon began going to his local Sydney Uniting Church youth group, held after school and on weekends. Gordon was 10 years old in the early 1980s when the church’s minister, Glen Marsh, would pick him up from home and drive him to the group. About four times over a period of a few months, Marsh masturbated Gordon and forced him to reciprocate.

‘I always felt that he was doing the wrong thing ... It was bad and in the end I told him that it was wrong, that it had to stop and he said, “Okay”. And I’m not sure, but he may have apologised. I’m not sure.’

Marsh’s popularity made it difficult for Gordon to absorb what had happened or tell anyone else about it.

‘Everyone loved him, which was shocking after the events happened. I couldn’t believe that everyone had put their faith in this minister … It was mind blowing, the confusion. I didn’t understand what sex was until I was 15, so up until then it was just total, total disbelief that someone could do that.’

At 30 years of age, Gordon was ‘mentally breaking down’ and he disclosed the abuse to a friend who was studying to be a psychiatrist. His friend told him that it had happened a long time ago and ‘no one really cares’.

By then Gordon was using illegal drugs, something he thought influenced his friend’s decision not to offer support, because ‘he wouldn’t risk his professional situation’.

Around that same time, Gordon became overwhelmed by anxiety and depression and had become suicidal. He began to access support from mental health professionals and then made a report about Marsh to the police.

‘The police were excellent. They couldn’t have been more supportive. They understood that as a child my memory of particular specific dates and times and even the occurrences were a little bit shady, but clear. I mean I know that happens.’

Marsh was charged by police but denied any wrongdoing. The case went to a defended hearing at which Gordon was ‘hammered’ by the magistrate who told him he’d colluded with police and that he was ‘delusional’. The charges were dismissed.

As a consequence, Gordon felt betrayed by the criminal justice system and found the whole thing ‘demoralising’. Conversations he’d had with health professionals on the understanding that they were confidential were brought up in court, after Marsh’s defence barrister subpoenaed Gordon’s medical records.

‘It entrenched my use of illicit substances because I was a little bit bitter and jaded and angry just in the whole system and society.’

Gordon applied for compensation under victims of crime legislation but was rejected, an outcome he was told was the result of no conviction having been recorded.

Following the court case, it took nearly 10 years for Gordon’s mental health to stabilise. In addition to taking prescribed medication he continued to use illicit drugs including crystal meth. He told the Commissioner that he had ‘a goal of abstinence’.

‘[The abuse] made me hypervigilant and what the drugs do for me, they calm me down so I can function and maintain a stable sense of being. Turning to drugs made the pain and hurt go away so it feels better, but the result is more stigma. More discrimination and self-worthlessness ensues.’

Gordon said he’d always found it difficult to trust anyone. ‘If I feel myself getting too close to people, which is usually after a two-year period – be that with a girlfriend or friends – I will just push them away. Something inside me just starts to shut down. It’s not even something I do consciously, and that goes for my work experience. I’ve had like, I don’t know, 20 jobs or something.’

Gordon described ‘good friends, a loving mother and a beautiful sister and nieces and nephews’ as helping him manage day-to-day living. However, he remained angry not only about the abuse but his subsequent treatment in court.

‘He was someone I trusted who betrayed me, which virtually destroyed my faith in people and institutions. This was done by the Church with the aid of a judicial system which further traumatises the victim. My belief in justice was shattered. The trauma … made me paranoid and dysfunctional. When the state tells you that you are delusional, your self-worth and value is shot.’

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