For a long time Howie blamed himself for the fact that he was sexually abused when he was a child. Ian Mathieson, the man who abused him, was so well regarded in the Presbyterian school where he worked, that Howie thought it must be his own fault somehow.
Howie had become good mates with Mathieson’s son at school. The two families started to socialise together. Mathieson moved interstate to work at another school but he still drove down to Adelaide to visit. He would then drive Howie and his own kids back up north for the holidays. It was during the night on one of these road trips that Howie woke up to find Mathieson almost penetrating him.
‘I was raped. But even at that stage I didn’t know what homosexual contact was.’ Mathieson’s own children were in the same room asleep in their own beds, ‘so I wasn’t hidden … I actually thought at one stage that one of his sons, Greg, awoke in the middle of the night while I was being abused, but it was never spoken about’.
Mathieson raped him again at a different location.
‘After the second time I said “please stop”, and then he stopped sodomising me but he would still fondle me … That was ongoing.’
The abuse continued for three or four more trips, when Howie was between 12 and 15 years old. Mathieson also abused him when he stayed at the Anglican school where Mathieson now worked. It all stopped when Howie put an end to the holidays up north.
He didn’t tell anyone about what Mathieson had done to him.
‘He was so looked up to … So I just thought, you know, it must have been me. I must have done it. I blamed myself. I was disgusted in myself … acutely embarrassed.’
Also, Howie said, in a weird sort of way Mathieson cared for him.
‘So it actually made it a weird thing about all the hurt, and yet he was caring … I was just so totally confused and ever since then I’ve really struggled with my relationships … As soon as someone male becomes a friend I just bolt.’
The fact that Mathieson kept visiting Howie’s parents made it supremely difficult for him. When he did, Howie always made sure he had other things to do.
He became very introverted, to the point where his dad would try to cheer him up. ‘I had a wonderful relationship with my dad but he would say, “Hey lighten up, son … Life’s ahead of you”. All those sorts of things.’
There was gentle questioning but it didn’t get to the point where Howie would disclose anything.
Not long after Howie left school, Mathieson died.
For many years after the abuse, Howie convinced himself that he was in control of its impact on him. But after his own father’s death he had ‘a little meltdown’. He sought counselling but it wasn’t effective. He couldn’t get any satisfying answer to his burning question: why did it happen?
He told his wife and his siblings about Ian Mathieson but never reported him, although he was keen to prevent other kids being abused.
‘I had this overwhelming view that if I formally reported it I was just going to be re-victimised.’
Eventually Howie did report him and was very happy, for the most part, with the way both the Anglican and Uniting Churches dealt with it, although he has told the Uniting Church that ‘I’m watching their moral compass’.
Howie’s more recent counselling sessions have been good ones and most of the time he accepts that the sexual abuse was not his fault.
He believes there’s a need to develop a greater understanding of why perpetrators commit sexual abuse. He also thinks that people should be alert to signs that a perpetrator is abusing. The fact that Mathieson invited students, who were struggling with life, in the boarding house to live in his home should have been a warning sign to the adults around him.
Howie also told the Commission there needs to be a major cultural change somewhere along the line.
‘I know the Royal Commission is about institutional responses but it’s fundamentally society that has allowed institutions to respond in the way that they have … It’s a society problem and it’s going to be a society solution.’