Hugh grew up in a Catholic family in the 1960s, a time he described as a different era. ‘The Church had supreme authority. Even after primary school I had to get permission from the bishop to go to high school.’
By the time he was 11 years old and in Grade 6, Hugh said whispers were circulating among boys about Brother Goodhew’s molesting behaviour. One day after school Hugh was called to the Marist Brother’s room and over a period of time, sexually abused.
‘He had to have his back rubbed, then it went onto genital rubbing. That was the first time I actually knew males ejaculated. So welcome to the world.’
The abuse happened on several occasions until Goodhew was caught sexually abusing another boy and was moved on. ‘He was transferred out quickly and that was the end of it.’ Hugh said he didn’t give the abuse much thought at the time nor disclose it to others. After school he had intermittent same-sex encounters while studying at university. He later married, had children and forged a successful career as a doctor.
Hugh told the Commissioner that by the late 1990s, he began feeling anxious about what had become sexually offending behaviour towards patients who came to see him at his clinic. ‘I’d go to the practice and hope there were no young males on the list’, he said.
He stated that he didn’t ‘realise it was inappropriate’ and ‘felt like there was some sort of relationship’, until one day he suddenly thought, ‘oh my God, I’m doing this. And that was when I suddenly got terrified.’
Hugh said he didn’t feel able to address or disclose his behaviour because of his standing in the community and the losses he’d incur if he told anyone. ‘I knew the first thing they’d say is you have to stop practising and then I’d have to explain to my wife and there’d be reports and before you knew it, you know, there’d be the domino effect. I couldn’t cope with the anxiety of losing the marriage or being humiliated so you just soldier on until the whole thing blew up, and it did on a grand scale.’
In the late 2000s, Hugh was convicted of sex offences against a teenage boy he’d treated in the mid-1990s. He was sentenced to three and a half years jail and deregistered as a medical practitioner. His marriage broke up and he became estranged from his children. At one stage during the court hearing and preparation, Hugh’s barrister made a connection between Goodhew’s abuse and Hugh’s current offending behaviour.
‘I really feel that lawyers had a better handle on sexual abuse than my colleagues’, Hugh said. ‘[My barrister] said, “You realise that what you’ve been doing is just what happened to you as a kid”. And I didn’t.’ Hugh said that one of the psychiatric reports about him was so damning that his lawyer wouldn’t tender it in evidence for his defence.
Hugh said he felt unsupported by the Medical Board throughout and following the charges against him. ‘At no point after I was deregistered did anyone come forward to help me. The Medical Board offered no help. They knew I’d been abused. They threw me out and there was no follow up. When they take away your professional licence, they take away your life.’
Prior to his conviction, Hugh had sought treatment for anxiety and depression. He’d never disclosed his offending behaviour because he feared the consequences, however he thought the professionals he saw were remiss in not asking direct questions that might have led to his disclosure. The responsibility was theirs, he thought. In the years following his release from jail he worked in unskilled jobs and forged references to fill in the gaps in his employment history. He said he’d been forced to steal food and for a period of time had lived in his car.
When he heard about Towards Healing, Hugh applied for and received an ex-gratia payment of $50,000 after the Catholic Church accepted that he’d been sexually abused by Brother Goodhew. He criticised the process for being conducted by people who were naïve and ill-informed about sexual abuse.
Hugh told the Commissioner that he’d been helped in prison and afterwards by studying languages and reading widely. He questioned society’s parameters of normal sexual behaviour and cited an example of a man he knew overseas who’d married a girl probably younger than her stated 16 years of age. He observed that they seemed happy together.
Of his offending behaviour, Hugh said: ‘Even a barrister could see it. It was the truncated nature of the behaviour. It was exactly the same every time and there was no gratification for me, other than an expression of this, whatever it was that underpinned it, presumably an anxiety. I accept that now. And that’s what I couldn’t get across to the lawyers and I couldn’t get across to the Medical Board and I couldn’t get across to my psychiatrist, that this is not me. This is a compulsion.
‘They would go into things like grooming and all these pejorative terms that belong in the Channel 7 news but don’t belong in the psychiatrist’s office. I gave up in the end, I just couldn’t convince anyone. To me – and I don’t think it’s a rationalisation, God forbid, I hope it’s not – to me it was an anxiety state of compulsive acting out of what had happened and I just hadn’t dealt with it.’
He said he was concerned that the Royal Commission perpetuated a sense of victimisation. ‘Like it or not, we have to move on in life. I know I’m lucky that my personality is robust, but I do worry that it perpetuates that I’m helpless and a victim. Because like it or not bad things happen in life but you can’t let it hold you back … Thank you for giving me the opportunity to grandstand.’