‘I thought about it … and decided that there was too many question marks on the whole subject … it’s always been a taboo subject for people to talk about … I felt that if I could come forward and tell people my story, that maybe that’d make people see it’s okay to come forward and to change things a bit.’
Lindsay was sexually abused by his teacher, Mr Bols, at a one-teacher school in rural Australia. The abuse began when Lindsay was five years old and continued until he was 15. Even after that, Bols continued to exert influence over Lindsay’s life.
When Bols arrived in town in the late 1980s, he quickly became a significant and trusted member of the school, church and wider community. He also became a close family friend of Lindsay’s parents and would frequently be at Lindsay’s house, helping his mother during his father’s frequent absences for work, and was included on family holidays.
Bols groomed Lindsay, his family and the whole community.
‘[I] felt like all these people are praising this person, how good he is, and [the abuse has] gone on for such a long period that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel like I could turn to anyone … He was in the church. It’s a small community … you know, everyone comes together for different events, community events with the school itself ... It was pretty difficult and that’s why … it went on for so long – for that reason.’
When Lindsay was 17, he told his girlfriend about the abuse but never told the rest of his family.
In the early 2010s, police contacted Lindsay because another man, Peter, who had been abused by Bols, had taken his life. In the course of the police investigation into Peter’s death, the police found a reference suggested Lindsay as someone who may also have been abused. Police spoke to Lindsay about his experience of Bols but he wanted to tell his family before he made a formal statement.
‘You sort of put it to the back of your head and I was lucky enough to just keep on moving on with my life reasonably well.’
Janette, Lindsay’s mother, wrote in her victim impact statement for court that she was devastated when Lindsay told her and her husband about his years of abuse. ‘My husband and I sat and listened while my heart sank at what terrible trauma had been inflicted on our little boy.’
The regional police officer Lindsay spoke to assisted him throughout the process of building a case and taking it to court. ‘She was really good. Really good to talk to … took me through the process easy, and made me understand … [I] think they did a really good job.’
Lindsay’s drive to speak to the police and see the case through court came from his concern for Peter and other children.
‘I thought it was only me [who was abused], so I just thought I’d get on with my life, move on, family, children. But after I found out that Peter actually killed himself, I thought I’d do the right thing by him too. He … needed a voice … it happened to me and it happened to him. Who else did it happen to? … that really changed my view on the whole situation, gave me enough to go forward [with the police].’
Janette still finds it difficult to understand how the abuse continued for so long.
‘Some of the scenarios that happened at school … why didn’t’ anyone pick it up … I didn’t hear things until afterwards … that he was doing. He was taking [Lindsay] over to his house in school time and escorting him to the toilet. Like, why didn’t somebody see it?’
Janette also battles with terrible feelings of guilt over not recognising the signs that Lindsay was being abused, as Lindsay’s behaviour throughout both primary school and high school was difficult and his grades remained low.
There was one year, though, when Lindsay did well at school. Janette remembers being astonished at his success. She now realises that this year matches the year that Bols had moved to the city and Lindsay wasn’t being abused.
Lindsay wants more public awareness of how children react to abuse to help parents and community members identify the signs and respond appropriately.
‘You just sort of lose … whether it be school grades or you’re not really concerned. I wasn’t concerned about [school] at all … The more you get punished the more you go against it. Well, “Bugger you then”, was sort of where I was at … I’d had enough of the whole lot.’
The tight-knit nature of a small community hindered any opportunities for Lindsay to report his abuse. ‘[In a small community] it is hard for a lot of this sort of stuff … particularly [in the 1990s]. It was your school teacher, your police officer, all those sort of things that were put up on a pedestal … that’s the way it was … It made it easy to get into the community.’
Janette believes that more could be done to assist people, teachers and auxiliary staff and parents, to report any suspicious behaviour. She is particularly concerned about small schools where teaching staff are few.
‘My biggest concern [is] about the Education Department … can we change the way [reporting] is done? Especially rural areas, I know … they can be cliquey places.
‘You need to have proper avenues … If you think there is something slightly wrong, you need to be able to tell somebody and have them listen to you … If I can help the Education Department look at [it] in a different light and let everyone have a voice [that would significant].’
The legal case was delayed quite a few times, with no explanation given to Lindsay.
‘It felt a little dragged out. But I was told that right back from the police that these things can drag out and can take time and you just have to be patient … [The court case] was very open and brutal but that’s what it was and I think that’s what needs to be done.’
Both Janette and Lindsay were dismayed with the picture drawn of Bols in court. They believe that character references from other teachers skewed the case. Lindsay was especially disappointed.
‘I didn’t feel that the judge got the full perspective of who he was … He said, “These acts haven’t happened since” [but] I don’t believe a bar of it … There [are] other people. It’s just … whether or not they come forward.’
Bols was convicted and sentenced to jail and he will never be able to work with children again. He did though only have to serve a reasonably short period of time behind bars.
‘That [short a sentence] … doesn’t fit the crime from my opinion. [But] … he’ll never become a teacher again. He’ll never be able to get himself in a position of where he was before. And that was enough for me, I guess, to think I’d changed that.’
Lindsay believes that the only reason he has been able to survive his abuse and then the legal case, is because of the continued support from his family. ‘Always having that support from your family … helps because it feels like you’ve got something there.’
The whole family have been affected by Bols’s acts and at times it has been very difficult. Trust is difficult for them, particularly trust in authority. Lindsay struggles with this every day.
‘I struggle [with] a lot of things like that. But I set my goals – particularly with my kids and that – I want to make sure I give them a good sort of go. So, I think about that a lot and that helps me not go off the rails.’
Lindsay told his story ‘because I wanted people to see that you can come forward and say something and get a result from it … If it changes one person’s view to think, “Well, hang on, I can go forward” and it’s changed one person, that’s … better’.