Jermaine’s family moved around a lot because of his father’s work, and ended up living in many towns in Tasmania. While Jermaine ‘had to adjust a lot’, he and his siblings were cared for by their mother, and enjoyed a fun-loving life on the beaches and in the bushland.
‘I wouldn’t come home ‘til dark, type of thing, and amused myself constantly', he said. 'Always had lots to do.’
In the early 1980s, when Jermaine was about 10, he attended a small public school in a remote location. The headmaster, Mr Laurent, ‘was the type of guy that the community adored’. ‘Around people he was really affectionate, friendly, supportive’, Jermaine said. However, when Jermaine was alone with him, ‘he was intimidating, vicious, and just a fearful man’.
Laurent groomed and then abused Jermaine in his office over a two-year period. ‘It’s such a gradual process’, Jermaine said. ‘It’s gone from sitting on to the lap, and then he started to move his hands down my trousers, and that’s when I thought, "No, things aren’t quite right".’ The abuse, which began with fondling and led to digital penetration, would occur ‘at least twice a week’.
The abuse Jermaine suffered was ‘more severe on scout camps’, and on one occasion probably occurred after Laurent had drugged him.
‘We all had hot chocolate in a big mug, and I just remember falling asleep within an instant. And I woke up during the night, and he’s performing these different things, and I remember feeling really weird, and I went back to sleep again. And I always wondered why I wouldn’t have woke earlier.’
Jermaine also babysat for Laurent, and remembers ‘feeling so much fear when he’d drive me home. But nothing ever happened then’. He was abused only when Laurent was in a position of power, and ‘to see two sides of a person’ used to fill Jermaine with confusion.
When he became a teenager, Jermaine had problems with authority, got into drugs, and ‘just went off the rails’. However, he managed to complete Year 10 and, when his pregnant girlfriend issued an ultimatum, he settled down, found a good job, and ensured that his own children grew up safe and ‘street savvy’.
‘I made sure that headmasters always had an open-door policy. I included myself on lots of camps.’
As an adult, Jermaine was diagnosed ‘with everything you can think of’. He has had post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, and ‘massive suicidal thoughts’. He thought that time would lessen the impact of child sexual abuse, ‘and in some ways, it does’, he said.
‘But now I see things like this as a spiral … You might think that you’re okay, then every now and then, bang, it will hit you. And you do things that you just know are not you. You doubt your mental stability once again, and the cycle starts. It’s not until you face it head-on, or have the opportunity to face it head-on, that I think you can really deal with it.’
At school, Jermaine said that ‘none of us ever discussed anything, ever’. As a kid, he skirted around his mother’s suspicions, and said she was ‘deeply saddened’ when he told her about the abuse later in life. As a parent, the perception that abuse survivors become perpetrators also stopped him from speaking up.
‘I remember being a young dad and hearing that people that had been molested are more likely to molest. From that moment, the thought of anyone finding out that I’d been molested repulsed me because I loved my children so much and it’s a terrible thought.’
About two years ago, when he heard that former students from his school had reported Laurent to the police, Jermaine felt that there would be ‘power in numbers’, and decided to do the same. Laurent pleaded guilty to sexual abuse charges, and received a sentence that Jermaine believes was light. At that time, he felt ‘absolutely shattered ... so many questions were left unanswered’.
However, the court case did reveal that members of the public, and Jermaine’s teacher, had made reports to the Department of Education which ‘fell on deaf ears’. It also revealed that Laurent was a former Christian Brother who was not able to work as a teacher in other Australian states. The department’s ‘woeful’ handling of these cases compelled Jermaine to speak to the Commission so that survivors within the public school system would be represented.
In the lead-up to the trial, and in need of time to collect himself and prepare for the prosecution, Jermaine disclosed his experience of sexual abuse when he requested leave from work, and a chain of events ensued which led to the ‘slaughter’ of his character and eventual dismissal.
However, after the trial, Jermaine’s wife was ‘really proud’ of his contribution. He felt that he had joined the ranks of survivors who ‘seem to be real fighters in life’, and believes that he has obtained some closure and ability to move on.
Also after the trial, Jermaine said that ‘something happened which I can only explain … as being a spiritual change that just went through me. A huge massive peace’. He has since found meditation to be the ‘most incredible thing’ because ‘it offers you that chance to just step out and be the witness of yourself, and not to make any judgement, and it’s an empowering thing, it really is’.
He also draws strength from his family. ‘You’ve got the kids, you want to be around them as long as you can, and that’s my strength.’