Jac was one of numerous boys sexually assaulted by serial predator Father Neil Upston. Upston was a priest at the local Catholic church Jac’s family went to, in a suburb of Melbourne. It was the late 1970s and Jac was 12. Upston took Jac away for a weekend trip and while they were away he molested him. The abuse occurred only once, as Jac avoided Upston after that.
‘I made sure I wasn’t ever around’, he told the Commissioner. He didn’t tell anyone what had happened, and he still remembers the fear and guilt he felt when he came home one day to find that his younger brother Jason and two other boys had gone away with Upston.
‘For that whole weekend I was just in a major panic’, he said. Jason, when he got home, said Upston hadn’t done anything to him, but he wasn’t sure about the others.
Upston singled out boys who didn’t have fathers, Jac said. ‘He was quite sneaky about it. Here you are, you’ve got kids who are missing their fathers and the guy’s slipping in as a pseudo father, you know what I mean.’ Jac recalls Upston’s assault on him as an act of betrayal, by ‘someone you love sort of like a father figure’. It changed his life.
‘It’s like a butterfly effect, isn’t it. One little thing in your life just affects all the rest, you know what I mean? I often wonder how things might have been … It just set me off on a different tangent in life.’
Jac was different after the assault. ‘[My mother] and my stepfather never understood why I went from being a good little kid to a complete opposite.’ But even if they’d asked, he wouldn’t have told them, he said. ‘I don’t even know why I didn’t say anything. To this day, I still don’t know why I didn’t. I suppose that bugs me in in itself – why didn’t you say something back then? …
‘This is what all these predators know. That kids just don’t talk.’
As a teenager, Jac rebelled. He pretty much gave up on school. He felt confused about his sexuality. ‘You kind of doubted your own sexuality there for a little while. Did he love [me] because I’m that way?’ He felt angry, and that anger stayed with him.
‘You go through your angry years – teenage years – and you just go through life angry. Even though what actually happened to me was minimalist … it certainly set me off in a mindset, and even today I still suffer from it. Anyone in authority I’ll challenge. Or anyone who’s a bully, or anyone who’s standing over anybody … That certainly doesn’t set you up very well to have good relationships through work, school and all the rest of it as well.’
In the late 1990s, Upston faced allegations of sex offences against children. Jac’s mother read an article about the case in the newspaper.
‘My mother rang me and asked me about it … She asked me “Has he ever done anything to you?” I go “Yes he did”.’ His mother reacted with ‘just deadly silence and sobbing, that’s pretty much it. Then she had to get off the phone because she couldn’t talk to me’.
Jac was her oldest child, he said, and she felt she’d let him down. ‘It just broke her heart.’
She called him back a few days later. She’d decided they should report the assault to police. Their complaint became part of a wider police investigation, involving other victims as well. When the case came to court, Upston pleaded guilty, and was jailed for four years.
If it weren’t for his mother, Jac probably still wouldn’t have been ready to disclose: ‘Mum set that ball rolling. I wouldn’t have.’
Some years later, in his mid-30s, Jac decided to pursue a civil case against the Catholic Church. He sought damages for the Church’s negligence in allowing Upston’s continued access to boys despite his history of sexually abusing them. Eventually the case was settled out of court and Jac received a six figure compensation payment. But he didn’t receive an apology.
‘When it gets down to it I was basically bought off … I tried to make these guys accountable; all they did was give me some cash and brush me under the carpet.’ As a result ‘I haven’t got the satisfaction out of it that I really wanted to’.
The issue of accountability is one he still wants the Church to address. The Church needs to apologise to all its victims worldwide, he said. ‘And then all those children that were messed with, look after them. They are your flock. Don’t sit there and try and cover up.’
He hopes the Royal Commission will be able to make a difference.
‘The way I look at it is, you know, by yourself you’re one drop but with everyone else you’re an ocean. So hopefully you’ve got enough people to wash over [the Church], for them to actually take accountability and responsibility for what they’ve done.’
Jac is married and has children. They live in a small town in Western Australia, which he believes is a safer place than a city for his kids to grow up in. ‘When it’s a small community you can keep an eye on the bad people. Everybody knows who’s the arse and who’s not, so to speak.’
He has been helped by counselling and has strategies to manage his anger about the abuse. ‘I keep it in the back of my mind because if I keep it in the back of my mind I’m a bit calmer.’ But he feels an ongoing sense of loss about what it took from him.
‘The real potential - what did I miss out on, just because I didn’t have the balance in my life. That’s the hardest thing …
‘He gets four years and we get a lifetime. That’s just not fair, is it.’