Griff grew up in a regional Victoria during the 1940s where he and his siblings were sent to the local Presbyterian boarding school.
At the school, Griff came into contact with Reverend Sylvester Thomas who was both a teacher and the chaplain. Thomas took Griff’s Grade 6 class for religious studies.
On one occasion during class, Thomas sat down at the desk next to Griff. This was not uncommon as Griff had seen him do this to other boys before. However this time Thomas grabbed Griff’s hand and forced him to masturbate him through his clothes. Griff was speechless. He didn’t know what was happening or what to do.
Griff hoped that this was a one-off thing, but Thomas started asking him to stay back after school. He was forced to write lines, and when everyone had gone, Thomas would sexually abuse him.
Griff also remembers being asked to write sentences on the chalkboard, and Thomas rubbing his body on Griff’s body in front of the entire class. He isn’t sure how many times Thomas abused him.
In the mid-1950s, Griff moved on to high school and his contact with Thomas ended. If he did see him at school, Griff was careful to avoid him. Griff didn’t understand that Thomas had abused him, so he didn’t tell anyone about his behaviour for many years.
During his final school exams, Griff was struggling to answer a question. He knew that the exams were marked by someone externally from the Department of Education, so he decided to write a letter instead describing the details of the sexual abuse he had experienced. He hoped that whoever read the letter would do something about Thomas.
However, Griff believes that the teacher on duty saw his letter and notified the school’s principal, Mr Jones. Later that day, Griff was called to Jones’s office with a few other boys who had caused a lot of trouble at school. When he saw the rage in Jones’s face, he was scared. Yelling, Jones said that the letter was ‘all lies’ and chased him around the desk, trying to hit him with a ruler.
Griff didn’t know what to do. He went to see his head prefect and told him what happened. The prefect suggested that Griff shouldn’t sleep in the dormitory that night, so Griff went across the road and slept in the church. He was sent home the following day and wasn’t permitted to finish his other final exams.
In the early 1960s, Griff became an angry man. He was frustrated that he hadn’t finished his exams like his classmates, and turned to alcohol to ease the pain. However, this heightened his anger and Griff got into many bar fights. Meeting his wife in his mid-20s changed all of that.
Griff went on to get a job in the hospitality industry, but eventually found it overwhelming. He felt a significant amount of pressure being around people so he moved to a different role with less human interaction. He said this helped him to manage his nerves and anger.
Throughout his adulthood, Griff has had a series of anxiety attacks. He said he didn’t know what they were until he sought counselling in recent years. Griff was then prescribed medication for his anxiety, which has helped him significantly.
When Griff was in his late 20s, he told his wife briefly that he was abused. He said he didn’t want to trouble her with the full details. It wasn’t until recently that he was able to disclose the abuse in greater detail to his counsellor. Since then, Griff has told his children and his wife, which has strengthened their relationships.
Griff would like to see teachers undergo thorough background checks and screenings. He would also like teachers to be trained to recognise signs of sexual abuse. Children need to know that it is okay to report abuse.