John Michael's story

John remembers feeling isolated from his family when he was growing up in Sydney – his siblings were a lot older and his mum and dad were more like grandparents. At first John tried to avoid school and would hide in the cubby house in the backyard but he soon grew to love primary school.

It was in high school that his grades started slipping and John lost all concentration, much to the puzzlement of his parents. What he couldn’t tell them about was the sexual abuse he was suffering, not at school but at a local church youth group, where boys learned drill practice, gymnastics and other activities. John had been in the group for six months or so. He’d grown to trust the officers and so, one parade night, when a junior officer told him to come out to the toilets, he went willingly.

The toilet block was a short distance from the church buildings.

‘He was already there and he was sitting on the toilet seat with his pants down and told me to turn around, and took my pants down, and sat behind me and sodomised me. That happened more than once. Two or three times I think.’

‘Afterwards all I remember is feeling sore and quite confused and going back inside. Obviously he told me not to say anything and I just carried on. And I felt dirty and confused. I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell anyone, I never mentioned it to my parents.’

John was frightened. ‘I was believing of an adult when they said don’t tell anyone and this is our secret … I didn’t have the power to understand.’

The same officer kept his distance from John at other times. ‘I just became one of the boys again and he was one of the officers.’

John told his mother he didn’t want be in the youth group any more but she encouraged him to stay on. The officer who’d raped him left about six months later.

John, already a sensitive boy, withdrew even more. One time, when school friends embarrassed him, he stopped talking to them altogether. He wanted to be closer to his family but it didn’t happen. ‘My father never took any interest in what I did as far as sport … my parents never came to see me or watch me or take an interest.’

Two years later a friend told John about auditions for a boys’ brass band. He thought it might be a better option than the boys’ club. But when one of the band members exposed himself to the boys when they went to his house and asked them to touch his penis, John said he didn’t stick around long enough to even find out his name. He didn’t report that abuse either.

John ended up leaving school in Year 9 and spent years in a job he didn’t care about. He got married and had children but all the while felt insecure and anxious. When his business failed and his parents died, he felt as though he was wandering in a kind of wilderness. He started sexually abusing children in the 1990s.

When John remarried, he told his wife about the abuse he’d suffered as a child. The effect on him ‘was like opening a door … just the realisation that … having offended and trying to rebuild and right my wrongs … I tried to understand why I did it’.

He wishes he’d told his wife that he himself was now abusing children. He believes she would have corrected him straight away. The year after he disclosed to her, John started getting panic attacks, triggered, he believes, by the job he now had that dealt with domestic violence and child abuse. He was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

When John was finally charged with child sex offences he felt relieved. It was ‘like having boulders removed and I just opened up’. He’s now serving time in jail.

John thinks there’s a correlation between him being a victim and a perpetrator. At the time it happened, he had ‘no inkling of any desire to offend’. He was living alone when he met a woman he knew from school who had children. The child he abused was vulnerable, as he had been. John almost saw himself in her, at her age.

‘I look back as to why and I can just identify I was sort of reliving my own youth in her.’

John’s own family has been supportive of him. Ironically he’s now much closer to his siblings. Self-reflection and a sense of atonement keep him going.

‘I accepted the punishment … I cleared my head and I was happy to be here.’

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