Jerome spent his school years at a Uniting Church-run school in Sydney, commencing when he was five years old, in the late 1970s.
‘I was in Grade 5 where things started to go a bit wrong for me and a teacher by the name of William Knight sexually abused me.’ Jerome thought Knight ‘was a bit too hands-on, as he would often tickle and touch students, including me’. As well as tickling, Knight would touch Jerome inappropriately on his genitals, both inside and outside his clothing.
‘As he was doing this he would be laughing and joking, which made it all seem acceptable and okay. Part of me was concerned that this was not right, but because he made a joke of it, and because he was a teacher, I thought it must be alright.’ The abuse happened at least every second day, and sometimes multiple times a day throughout the year.
Jerome told the Commissioner that Knight stood and watched the boys when they took their clothes off to change for sport, and when they were taking showers at school camps. At one camp Knight sat next to Jerome outside in the dark and began masturbating him. He stopped abruptly when another teacher told everyone to turn their torches on.
Knight also repeatedly invited Jerome to visit his beach house on weekends, saying, ‘We could have fun, play tennis and have fun’. Jerome never accepted these invitations and once he moved on to Grade 6, he had no further contact with this teacher.
John Douglas was a rugby coach at the school and lived in the boarding house. Jerome thought he was ‘the coolest teacher at the school’. He would give students special privileges, such as allowing them to use the gym and swimming pool on weekends.
‘There was sort of a core group. I think that’s how they do it. There’s a group of you and then they pick you off … The more vulnerable the kid, the more chances they’ve got and I was one of those.’
When Jerome was 12, Douglas invited him and a schoolmate to come up to his room. While the boys were there, he showed them a graphic pornographic video of men and young boys. He then made them masturbate him and each other.
Weeks later, Jerome was again in the teacher’s room and Douglas produced a video camera and began filming Jerome. ‘I started to play with myself but I did not get aroused. I remember thinking I did not want to be doing this.’ Eventually Douglas became annoyed and told him to go.
Soon after, when Jerome saw Douglas in the playground disciplining some students, Jerome yelled at him. ‘I didn’t even know what the other boys had done, but I was angry with Douglas because of what had happened.’ That was the last time Jerome spoke to Douglas, even though he was at school for five more years.
Jerome didn’t report the abuse. ‘It was just a classic case of fear and embarrassment … The fear that I wouldn’t be believed … I didn’t even have the ability to bring it to the forefront of my mind to even form the words … It was just sort of, “No, you’re not going to mention this”, and that repression took effect and I thought about it maybe once a year … It would float in, and then it’d float out and I’d go, “yeah, that happened to me but let’s not talk about it”.’
When Jerome was 24 he visited the school for the first time since he’d left, and he saw Douglas. ‘The room started to spin and … that was my first panic attack, and that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.’
‘I have been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, depression and agoraphobia.’ Even though Jerome has undergone therapy for many years, ‘I am so traumatised by the sexual abuse that I suffered, I am so ashamed and embarrassed by it, that I have been unable to tell any of the doctors or psychologists ...
‘The damage it causes … You’re too young. It’s just it affects you so in your daily life, with jobs, with partners, with everything, and that cost then on society is huge. The money costs on society, with drug addiction and drinking and obviously the anger that comes from it and breakups and the dads and the mums.’
It was only when Jerome’s wife guessed that something had happened to him and started pressuring him to tell, that he disclosed the abuse to her. When she discovered that Douglas was still teaching at the school they decided to report him to the police. It was only after the school had settled out of court that Jerome was finally able to talk to his psychologist about the abuse.
‘There’s no amount of counselling that you can give someone compared to the trauma they went through … It’s an obvious statement, but it’s got to be stopped before it happens … What has happened to a child’s mind, it’s very hard to fix. You’re going to have problems for the rest of your life. I know I am.’
Jerome told the Commissioner that he was ‘very worried about the possibility of teachers and headmasters knowing about it, and for me, that’s a crime as great as … the paedophiles themselves. And I don’t know, that could be a deterrent for anyone down the track if they could get punished themselves. It wouldn’t just be the paedophiles, it’d be the people who knew about it and did nothing about it. They could be brought to justice and that would stop people doing that down the track’.
Jerome feels that coming to the Royal Commission will be ‘very empowering … you feel like you’re being listened to’.