Josh described himself as one of the lucky ones, able to lift himself out of a very dark place and build a good life despite the abuse he suffered as a child.
‘I would never accept a life spiraling out of control because of that. I made a conscious decision to say, “I’m not going to blame anything on anyone. I’m going to pick myself up and I’m going to be successful and be happy and be a good person, doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past”.’
Josh was born in the early 1980s and grew up under the authority of a strict and violent father. At age 10 he started to stand up for himself and this led to some fierce confrontations. ‘I actually had physical fights with my Dad. That really probably pushed – that’s probably why the abuse did happen.’
Josh’s volatile home life left him feeling vulnerable and in need of affection. These feelings hit their peak a few years into his time at an independent high school. One day he felt so ‘broken’ by the abuse at home that he sought help from the school counsellor, Mr McKinney.
From then on Mr McKinney took a special interest in Josh and would regularly take him out of class for private meetings in his office. At the time Josh just thought McKinney was being caring. In hindsight he can see that the counsellor was grooming him. One day Josh was in the school hall, participating in some extra-curricular activities.
‘And obviously that was his opportunity because I wasn’t meant to be anywhere. So I guess he got me from there and that was the first day he sexually abused me. I can’t even remember what it was, whether it was him masturbating in front of me or performing oral sex on me. I don’t even remember but it was something and that’s when it started from there and then it went through and got weirder and stranger.’
The abuse continued once or twice a fortnight until Josh left school in year 12. As an adult he’s tried to comprehend why it was he never reported the abuse to anyone at the time.
‘It’s kind of hard to face up to but maybe I felt like I was special and somebody is nice to me or wanted me and I didn’t realise how weird and wrong it was … and then you start realising that it’s a bit embarrassing and so you wouldn’t want people to know, so you are ashamed of it because at first you didn’t repel it, you didn’t stop it.’
The impact of the abuse set in during Josh’s final year of school. He blew off his final exams, smoked a lot of marijuana, got in a fight with his dad and left home. After that, things really went off the rails.
‘When I left school I decided I wasn’t going to get abused anymore, by anybody. Not my Dad, not McKinney, not even anyone on the street, anyone saying anything to me. I became quite aggressive and violent. So I’d go to parties and people would say something to me and I’d just bash the shit out of them.’
At the time, Josh was going out with a girl named Michelle. Michelle’s father was an insightful man who saw Josh’s increasingly erratic behaviour and became concerned. Josh recalled:
‘He just bailed me up one night. He turned up at 4 am in the morning, bailed me out of bed and told me to get outside and come talk to him. And he’s like, “What happened? You tell me everything, I’ve done some investigations”. I didn’t know what he knew but I just told him everything.’
Michelle’s father then took Josh to the police station where he made a full statement. Sometime later McKinney was arrested. Word got out around town that he had abused Josh. Josh couldn’t bear it and took off interstate.
Around this time he received a payout of $160,000 from Mr McKinney. He said, ‘I don’t even understand what it was for. Because I didn’t have anything to do with it. The solicitors looked after it’.
Josh said the money almost killed him. ‘I could buy whatever I wanted – drugs, alcohol, fast cars that I was not able to drive or control properly. It was ridiculous.’ Over the next five years he squandered the money in a reckless haze of drug abuse and depression until one day he got a ‘wakeup call’ when a colleague committed suicide. After that Josh got a new job and started to clean himself up.
‘I started wearing nice clothes to work, I matured, I stopped partying. And then two years later I met my wife. Things sort of got a lot better. And that gets me through to today. From 25 till now I’ve sort of just bunkered down. It’s okay now but it was a pretty crazy time. I could have ended up anywhere.’