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Jem's story

Jem grew up in the 1970s in a coastal town in New South Wales. He went to his local high school and when he was in Year 8, was befriended by one of the teachers there, Mr Hopkins, who was seen as very cool and was popular with all the kids.

Hopkins was into music and film and was given permission by the principal to use the classrooms on weekends to get the kids involved in projects.

‘He used to give us dope and we used to smoke dope and some happened in the school and some happened out of the school. He used to get you stoned and make himself come onto you, I suppose.’

Jem said Mr Hopkins sexually assaulted him a number of times over the course of the next two years, usually under the influence of drugs. Nobody seemed to notice the smell of the drugs, despite some of it happening during school time.

‘Teachers, they have a lot of time with children by themselves, one on one, and obviously they’ve got a lot of responsibility and I suppose there’s nothing really you can do. You can’t afford to have two teachers in a room, can you?

‘But how he could access the rooms after school and at the weekend and stuff, he had a lot of trust. I suppose not many people believed it when it first came out. Teachers to students. But he seemed to have a lot of respect and a lot of trust.’

Jem didn’t tell anyone about the abuse and at the end of Year 9 he left the high school, because of what was happening to him. He then started going to a Catholic school.

‘But I didn’t last there too long. I was already kind of, maybe a little bit angry. Basically I went surfing.’

As a result, Jem’s education was significantly impacted. As an adult he’s had difficulty finding work other than odd jobs and has been on welfare support for a long time. He said he never developed a sense of responsibility towards work: ‘If the surf was good I’d just go surfing instead of going to work. I have that kind of lax attitude.’

He also continued to take a lot of drugs and essentially dropped out of life. Over the years he was often homeless. His sisters would offer to come and pick him up but he said he chose instead to live on the streets and take drugs. Over the years he’s been to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous and has seen a few counsellors and found them beneficial. But he says it’s easy to fall back into old patterns, especially if you stay in the same environment.

However, he’s not bitter about the way things have panned out and the ‘demon’ of drugs.

‘I mightn’t be here without them, actually. I suppose they’ve helped me with stopping thinking about things, reality. What I have, what I haven’t created in life and the weight of it on my family … Myself, I feel pretty fortunate, pretty lucky just to be born in this country and have all my limbs and live near the ocean … My sisters they tell me what I’ve lost … but I can just see it from the other side.’

Jem never told anyone what was going on at the time but in the early 2010s, he decided to report Hopkins to the police.

‘I just went to the police station one day … 20 years later. I can’t actually recall what made me, besides getting something off your chest and knowing that it’s wrong and that in some form he may have to answer for it.’

He said he was unsure about approaching the police because of being a known drug taker himself. But the police took him very seriously from the start, taking a statement and treating him with respect. About a month later they called him to say someone else had come forward about Hopkins.

Eventually a number of other former students of Hopkins reported to the police, Hopkins was charged with several offences, stood trial and was sentenced to a prison term.

Jem received compensation payments from the government, although he blew a significant amount of it at the beginning. But he’s also managed to lock some money away and says, ‘I’m very grateful for the money … I have spent a lot of money on drugs throughout my life, and I just can’t afford to do that. Like, to be given the gift and the opportunity … it’s a start, I suppose.’

He’s recently had a decent period of time clean and is in a good head space, happy to play music and go surfing, but also aware that there can be much more to his life.

‘I just think it’s time to do the right thing towards myself again. No one else can do it for you, can they? I need to start respecting on all levels …

‘I’ve spent a lot of time on the other side. I’ve wallowed. But that didn’t get me very far. I’m good now. I feel fortunate. Although this happened and, yeah, it’s affected me, but we’re pretty lucky here, aren’t we?’

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