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Gregory John's story

Between the ages of 12 and 16 Gregory was sexually abused multiple times by one of the teachers at his Anglican school in Perth. The abuse came to an end when Gregory finished school, in the early 1990s, and travelled overseas. ‘I’m happy to talk about it if you want me to but in terms of what physically happened to me I don’t feel the need to go into it’, Gregory told the Commissioner.

The teacher, Timothy Stephens, had become very close to Gregory’s family over that time – so much so that when his parents travelled for work, they left Gregory and his sister in Stephens’ care. Stephens used these occasional stays as an opportunity to abuse Gregory. He also sexually assaulted him at school and on school camps.

The close connection between Stephens and Gregory’s family became a source of additional pain for them when Gregory eventually disclosed the abuse at age 18. For his sister, he said, ‘to find out this had been happening in [Stephens’] house while she was there was, well, certainly had an impact on her’. And for his parents: ‘It really hurt my parents. Clearly they felt not only betrayed but also that they’d let me down. From my perspective they hadn’t. This fellow, he just basically did a spectacular job of grooming and made himself a friend of the family.’

Gregory didn’t disclose the abuse to anyone at the time.

‘As a child at that age the reason why I couldn’t bring myself to say that it was happening was because I just knew sort of the ramifications for me – I would have had to change schools,’ he explained. The schoolyard culture was one where the slightest excuse resulted in taunts of being gay or a fag. Nowadays such name calling wouldn’t matter, he said – but then, ‘those taunts cut to the bone’.

‘My sole reason for not reporting it was just the personal impact it was going to have on me … It was easier to hide it than to face the – what I feared more, in a funny sort of way, was just being tarnished. Socially it would have been just destructive. If there was the opportunity to report it anonymously I probably would have.’

He also felt constrained by concern for a boy a few years younger than him, to whom Stephens was very attentive. ‘It probably sounds quite bizarre, but it was probably one of the reasons why I didn’t stop it, as well. I almost felt that – in an immature sort of way, [it was] my way of protecting this kid a couple of years younger than me. I wasn’t able to go and tell anyone or report it, so I almost let things continue’, he explained.

Gregory wonders now whether someone at his school should have noticed what was going on. Stephens would drive Gregory home from school, he’d go swimming with Gregory and he took Gregory on camping trips. There was a ‘closeness’ there that was unusual, and should have attracted attention from staff, he believes. ‘Someone at some stage should have mentioned it to the deputy headmaster or whoever.’

As well, looking back through his old school reports not long ago, the consequences of the abuse were immediately apparent. From being confident and successful – ‘an A+ student winning academic awards’ – Gregory became a withdrawn underperformer: ‘He doesn’t seem to care anymore’, a teacher wrote. The change occurred almost overnight, Gregory said. ‘I didn’t realise how much it clearly impacted me at the time.’

Gregory wishes staff at the school had been concerned enough for his welfare to ask him about the deterioration. But he doesn’t hold the school responsible for what happened.

‘I don’t actually blame the school … We had developed a family friendship with [Stephens], and they have would have assumed that’s what’s happening here.’

In the years since, Gregory has still not informed the school about Stephens’ abuse. He was close to doing so when he heard that Stephens had died. Now it seems like there’s no point. ‘I think it is a good institution … I don’t want it to be tarnished because of the unfortunate actions of an individual. Yes there may have been some warning signals but overall I do have some loyalty to it. I’m sensitive to damaging the school‘s reputation.’

He is less forgiving of police, who he reported Stephens’ abuse to as an 18-year-old. He had disclosed his story to an Anglican priest first of all, who was ‘great’, he said. ‘He encouraged me to do whatever I felt I needed to do about it.’ On his advice Gregory told his parents, and with their support he then reported to police. He was living in a NSW country town at the time, so went to a police station there.

‘The only organisation I’ve attempted to report to – and this was the biggest failure from my perspective – was the New South Wales police. I was just, you know, dismissed and pretty much told to dry my eyes and go away.’ The problem probably lay with the individual rather than the police force, he said – it was an ‘elderly sergeant who just basically couldn’t be bothered’.

Gregory had decided to report to police because he was concerned Stephens might be sexually abusing others. ‘My motivation for coming forward then was that he was still a teacher … I felt I had some obligation because I guess I didn’t want this to happen to other people.’ But after being rebuffed by the sergeant, ‘I just pulled down the shutters for a while’.

Gregory is married and with the encouragement of his wife has had counselling to talk through his experiences. He’s extremely protective of his own children, he said. ‘Although professionally I’ve done well, to me I’ve just made sure that work is always a distant second.’

He has not sought redress, and doesn’t plan to. ‘I don’t think I’ll pursue that path’, he said. ‘It’s troubling me less than ever, now. To me it’s something that I feel I’ve put behind me … In a strange sort of way because of the experience I actually like the person I am more, because it’s given me a much stronger sense of humanity and service. I’m a lot more empathetic. It makes me part of who I am, and I like who I am now.’

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