Joel Thomas's story

Joel’s father was often hospitalised when he was young, leaving his mother struggling with the children, and he was left alone for a lot of his childhood. ‘I think I was, you know, just a normal little boy, liked to play with my mates and that.’

In the early 1970s Joel was in Year 3 at his local government primary school in suburban Melbourne. He did well at mathematics, and his teacher gave him additional tuition after school so he could learn even more.

‘There were these private sessions in the classroom by himself, where he would teach me bits of mathematics while asking me to sit on his lap and play with him.’

Some years later friends told Joel that there was ‘very unusual punishment’ in the teacher’s other classes ‘which suggested that there was other victims, and that other people knew about his behaviour ... I don’t know whether any of those reported – I certainly didn’t talk to anyone at that time’. Joel feels he may not have spoken to his family about it as ‘it wasn’t as cohesive maybe, or distracted with other things at the time’.

This teacher was also involved as a leader in the scouts group Joel attended, and continued to sexually abuse him there over a 12-month period. At various times on camps out of town ‘he got me alone in his car, again’. There wasn’t any opportunity for the man to abuse him at the regular scout meetings as there were too many people around.

Joel felt that other scouts ‘knew what was happening, but again there wasn’t a lot of talk about it or whatever’. Eventually when Joel was in Year 6 or so, he confronted the man in front of other scouts and leaders – ‘during some scout activity I basically called him names, and challenged him’. The teacher just tried to tickle him and make a joke about it. None of the adults present asked him why he was saying those things.

‘The fact that ... I stood up to him in some ways, must have meant that something changed in me, in terms of not being just accepting of whatever people did to me. That I was prepared to challenge authority ... I guess it’s something that I’ve continued to do so, in the sense that I never accept [anything] just because the person saying it has got a certain power or position or whatever.’

Joel doesn’t recall many details about this man’s physical appearance – hair colour, height, skin, or his name. ‘My most vivid memory is actually of the smell of, you know, his groin.’

In his early 20s Joel began questioning his sexuality, and spoke to the counsellor at his university. ‘Obviously he introduced me to a type of sexuality that I wasn’t ready for ... then you’re trying to deal with it. Certain things were sort of niggling away and you feel like, this is something that I need to talk to someone about, and sort of work out how I feel about myself.’

The counsellor was very helpful when he disclosed the abuse to her, and at this time he told his parents, who could not speak about it easily, and his sister, who was very supportive.

‘That really was quite a turning point. And going through various sessions, and various role plays and things like that, that they take you through ... Just being able to talk to them about those matters ... My sister was an enormous support, being able to talk to her about things, and for her not to be judgemental in any way and very understanding and supportive.’

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