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Johnno's story

Johnno talked about anxiety many times when he was talking to the Commissioner – anxiety, not being able to sleep, and waking up from nightmares in a cold sweat.

Johnno was sent to a private boarding school halfway through Year 6. His parents had separated when he was five or six and he lived with his mum, who worked six or seven days a week. His father didn’t know how to bring up children, Johnno said, and disappeared out of his life for years. His connection with his stepfather was not much better.

Compassion was in short supply at the school as well. The older boys could torment the younger kids freely and because Johnno had no older brothers there, he came in for some very bad bullying. He’d ring his mother and tell her he was covered in bruises.

But it was at night, when Johnno was in Year 7, that the sexual abuse took place and continued for about eight months.

People would come in through the windows, off the street, and into Johnno’s dormitory where a small group of Year 7 boys slept in double bunks. These people had blacked their faces so they wouldn’t be recognised. Johnno was in the bottom bunk the first time it happened.

‘When I got molested I woke up, I turned around and I looked at this guy and he had shoe polish all over his face. He had … a dark blue track suit on … he had dark hair. He looked like he was in his 40s.’

The next time it happened Johnno was in the top bunk. ‘I had to sit in my bed and listen to the other boys getting molested. It used to send me insane. I was so scared, being a young Year 7 boy … My heart would be beating at a thousand miles an hour. Some bloke would be sitting on … my friend’s bottom bunk fondling him. It happened a lot. It happened about seven or eight times.

‘I was traumatised. I couldn’t sleep at night. I just couldn’t pay attention in class, I was suffering bad anxiety … that’s when my anxiety started.’

Johnno started staying up all night, waiting for them to break in again. He kept a weapon in his bed.

The boys in the dormitory reported this to their house master five times. Finally the school took action and reported it to the police, who took their statements and showed the boys photos of suspects. They couldn’t identify anyone.

As they were walking back to school across the oval, one of the teachers asked, ‘”You boys don’t need any counsellors do you?” And we were all together and we said, “No, we’re right”. But you’re not going to go saying you’ve got a problem’.

After locks were put on the windows, the break-ins and the abuse stopped but by then the damage had been done.

‘I really feel that what happened made my schooling almost impossible for me, because I couldn’t pay attention in class … Because I didn’t sleep at night.’

His family didn’t see much of Johnno so didn’t know what was happening. He ended up changing schools but dropped out by the end of Year 11. There was no point going on. His life became completely focussed on alcohol, drugs – ‘every drug you could think of’ – and hanging out with the wrong people.

‘My whole life was down the gurgler … I was a total mess.’ The mess included a series of short-lived relationships as well as jail time for various offences. He didn’t ever disclose the abuse to his partners, only to a few close friends and to prison counsellors.

The last time Johnno was released from prison he began watching church programs on TV. Then he started reading the Bible. It changed his life completely.

Church has become his biggest support. He stopped taking hard drugs and he stopped self-medicating with Valium and other prescription drugs. ‘The only medication I take now is reading my Bible.’

Johnno was going to sue his old school in his 20s but was too distracted by his drug habit. But he remembers how furious he was about it and how much he was at the mercy of the school. ‘Being in jail was easier than being in Year 7.’

Johnno believes that kids should be educated so they can identify sexual abuse when it happens. He also thinks the way the Year 7 boys were asked whether they needed counsellors was useless.

‘I don’t know if I need counselling or not at the time … I want to be a man. I don’t want to be someone who’s got something wrong with them … I think the police have got to step in with the right people and say, “Look, you’ve been molested. Here’s a counsellor”. And then give me some support, independent support, from then onwards.’

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