‘I’d already been abused before in my life which made this particularly bad, I guess. I feel like this actual event is probably on the lower end of the scale of what happens really. It was a bit unfortunate for me that I’d already been abused; I was more at a point where I think – it’s hard to say – but I perhaps would have moved forward better from my earlier abuse had this not happened.
‘As I’ve gotten older the impacts have been dramatic and clear to me how much it’s affected my life. I have thought about it and with this Commission it has made me think again as well about how it was handled.’
As a 13-year-old boarder at a Catholic boys’ school in Tasmania, Jim one day volunteered to help pack up after class. He was then sexually abused by teacher Marshall Bowen, who put his hands down Jim’s pants and masturbated him. Bowen insisted on helping Jim clean up after he ejaculated and said, ‘This is where you thank me’. Jim mumbled thanks and left.
Bowen was involved in the school sports program and befriended Jim’s mother, regularly offering to drive Jim on sports excursions and suggesting he stay overnight at his house. When Jim’s mother one day made a complimentary comment about Bowen, Jim ‘spat the dummy and reacted in an extreme way’. When pressed, he told his mother what Bowen had done to him.
Jim’s mother immediately contacted the school and together with Jim met with the housemaster, the principal and the head of the Salesian Brothers. They acted quickly and Bowen left, although it was announced that he was going ‘for health reasons’.
While this had seemed the right course of action to Jim at the time in the late 1980s, he later regretted that more hadn’t been done to openly acknowledge Bowen’s abuse. ‘I don’t feel like the institution’s horrendous in the way they handled it’, Jim said.
‘Again there’s certainly been much worse sort of thing, but sweeping it under the rug which is what it felt like; I felt like the primary importance with the institution was to hide it so that nothing was made public, and at the time that’s what I wanted, too.
‘I didn’t want anyone to know, but I do feel like that let me down. It was hard to not feel any blame, any responsibility, the age I was at, the way my body was responding and that kind of thing. It put a lot of questions there and that sort of thing.
‘And throughout my life the same build of person, that man, generates an anxiety response for me almost every time I see someone with that build. If I see the vehicle that he used to drive which was quite distinctive – not his actual vehicle, I don’t remember the number plate or anything like that - that triggers a lot of anxiety again. I’m not sure that there’s any protecting everyone ever from things like that, unfortunately.
‘The way that it was handled, it could have been different and could have perhaps made a big difference to my life. And it wasn’t. I have discovered later in talking to classmates and people from years above me and that kind of thing, it was known, this wasn’t the first time that it had happened.’
Jim remembered another lay teacher leaving the school in similar circumstances, and he later found out that teacher had also sexually abused boys.
The school provided Jim with counselling, but he didn’t really want to engage in talking about the abuse and stopped going after a few sessions.
In his early 20s, Jim got legal representation and took civil action against the Salesians. He wanted acknowledgment and an apology but didn’t get either. He felt like they thought he was ‘just chasing a payout’.
In his working life, Jim had ‘a few jobs in different fields’, but there were careers he couldn’t commit to because he struggled with trusting people.
‘I don’t think that that singular event has been the cause of my life’s woes or anything like that. I think from a lot of earlier things I’m a reasonably anxious person and I’m an over-thinker anyway, that’s just part of my nature. But that being the case, that happening and the follow-on things from that at a particular time in my life dramatically impacted the way I see the world, and that level of anxiety has stuck with me.
‘It’s meant that my level’s here and it has only taken a little bit to push me over. I’ve had what I call a breakdown a couple of times in my life, spent a few periods where I can’t go outside, having a panic attack getting through the door and that sort of thing. I’m a lot better about that these days, but I don’t feel confident a hundred percent that I’m not going to fall into that again …
‘When I really think things through it does seem pretty clear to me that those events caused a lot of grief through my life. It could have been handled differently I think …
‘If he had have been fired because he abused a child – and the child need not be identified –then I think that would have made a really big difference.’