Howard grew up in North Queensland in the 1960s, but when his father found it hard to get work, the family moved to Brisbane.
‘I didn’t have any dramas at school. I quite liked it. I was a fairly active kid. Liked to climb things. Liked to be outdoors. In those days, I was never one for, I suppose, the classroom. I was probably in the lower … percentage of kids academically.’
Howard cannot remember the name of the school maintenance man, but he first encountered him when he was in Grade 4 and ‘a mate of mine in my class had told me that he had shown him some books of naked ladies … We were bought up in a church environment, so for me to see that, I suppose, was something new’.
Howard and his friend visited the maintenance man a number of times, and sometimes there were other boys present. ‘I remember there being other books there that he showed … I remember showing us his penis. I remember him wanting to see ours. I guess all of this is just new stuff, you know, to a tiny kid … I don’t know why … I didn’t walk away from it … Silly, I suppose.’
Howard remembers the man ‘telling us about having sex and somehow … it came up that he could show us how they have it or something, and he took me around a corner of this room … I could take you if we went to the school … I can tell you exactly the layout of the room … I was bent over something … and I remember the pain in my behind’.
Howard said that, after the rape, he doesn’t remember leaving the room. ‘I don’t even remember … pulling my pants back up. But I must have done … I really can’t recall much of Grade 4 after that period of time.’ After the assault, he never went back to the maintenance room.
Howard can’t recall much of Grade 5, but Grades 6 and 7 were ‘pretty horrendous years for me … I had a teacher in Grade 6 … and I was severely caned by him on so many occasions for nothing more than getting sums wrong, or getting spelling wrong … I remember having huge welts and bruises on my body for weeks on end, from being caned by that man’.
His Grade 7 teacher was just as physically abusive. She had a three-foot ruler and ‘from the moment I walked into her classroom, she laid into me so regularly it wasn’t funny, and I have no idea why that happened’. Howard's family moved halfway through Grade 7, and he finished his primary education at a school that he loved.
In high school, Howard was often bullied by the ‘tough boys’, so by the time he reached his late teens, ‘I guess I tended to just try and forget about school and have nothing to do with anybody that I’d been to school with … I got more involved in our church … and just tried to lead a normal life as much as I could’.
Howard never spoke about the abuse to anyone until 2013, when he was talking to some friends ‘and it was the morning that I think it was Rolf Harris was charged and we were sitting down and they said about that and I just broke down … and I told them my story … and that’s the first time I’ve ever revealed to anybody … that anything had ever happened to me … and they’ve been fantastic support to me, those guys’.
Howard has also reported the abuse to police. He felt that the detective ‘was very good … very understanding. I felt like he was concerned and cared and was very, very good the way he handled it’. The investigation is ongoing.
The education department’s response was less good. They failed to acknowledge any responsibility or liability, did not seek any further information from him, or instigate an investigation. ‘I thought it was a totally unsatisfactory response.’
Howard’s children are aware of what happened to him and he has ‘apologised to them if I ever seemed hard on them, making sure that I knew where they were at all times and who they were with. But as I said to them, it was to protect them because I never, ever wanted them to go through what I went through’.
Howard began suffering from mild depression and anxiety in the early 2010s, both of which escalated. He has recently begun seeing a psychologist, which he is finding helpful.
‘I have my days. I think I still struggle with this from time to time ... The psychologist is helping me to move on. I’ve taken some steps … to try and clear out things of the past … Some things I can’t throw out … a photo of me in Grade 4.’ There is no other photo of Howard at primary school.
Howard came forward to the Royal Commission because, ‘part of the process is for me to move on … I don’t want to carry this around for the next 10, 20 years … [My wife and I] want to spend the rest of our lives happy, and being able to do things, not being cramped up. It’s quite easy to lay on a bed and not get off a bed for a whole day, and just get caught in that … I don’t want to be caught in that emotion. I need to move on’.