When Josif was nine he returned from an outing that he’d been on with several friends and a teacher from his Anglican school. His mother noticed his all-over suntan and asked whether he’d been naked during the outing. Josif said that he had.
‘[I] realised that, you know, some transgression had occurred’, Josif said. ‘She said to me, “Whose idea was that?” and I was embarrassed and I said, “I don’t know”, and got in the shower and that was the last we spoke about it.
‘So that’s caused a great deal of grief between me and my parents because I felt that they weren’t diligent enough in pursuing whether something untoward had happened, but it was 1980. Anyway that was the extent of the telling, was acknowledging that I was naked with this man.’
The man was teacher Graham Nicks and he’d masturbated in front of the boys and then masturbated them.
Looking back on events, Josif realised Nicks had been calculated in who he selected to go on the outing, and he’d excluded one boy who was ‘pretty unruly’.
‘I remember the way that he made connections with us was very, very skilled, and particularly in terms of the kind of incremental nature of facilitating sexual contact with us was very skilled ... I mean when I look back on it I can see, you know, that it was practised and rehearsed.’
In the few years after the abuse, Josif did well at school but at around the age of 15 or 16 he ‘just had this flip’.
He’d always had anxiety about being away from his parents and had never been able to stay at friends’ houses.
‘The separation anxiety that I had with my parents turned into a complete anger at them and I think that that was as a result of reaching adolescence and then a whole lot of unprocessed anger at what had happened. And that coincided with an absolute slide in my academic performance and kind of, you know, developing depression and abusing drugs and shutting my parents out. So it was kind of delayed in that respect.’
In the 1990s when Josif was in his mid-20s, he was asked directly by his parents whether he’d been sexually abused, and he told them about Nicks. Together they approached the school to report what had happened.
‘The school were very opaque and dismissive and unhelpful’, Josif said. ‘They wouldn’t return phone calls. I was wanting an apology and I sought legal representation.’
After ‘legal to-ing and fro-ing’ the school finally recognised Josif’s complaint, but said because the abuse hadn’t happened on school grounds they weren’t responsible.
‘They acknowledged that he was a paedophile and that they knew about him, but they denied any liability and they offered me $32,000, which I accepted. And in retrospect I shouldn’t have because I know, realise, that it was manifestly inadequate but I didn't have particularly good legal advice. But anyway I accepted it.’
Josif felt pressured by his legal representative to take the first offer made by the school. ‘He thought that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. He thought that, you know, it’s just something that happened and I was being avaricious.’
None of the people with whom Josif spoke during his complaint or thereafter suggested he go to Victoria Police and he ‘didn’t even think of it’ himself.
Josif’s first report to police was in the early 2010s. At the time of speaking with the Royal Commission he was awaiting further notice of proceedings against Nicks who was imprisoned interstate for child sex offences.
From an early age Josif had seen counsellors and psychiatrists to address his issues of anxiety. He hadn’t mentioned the incident with Nicks until recently when he’d been seeing a therapist whose area of expertise was child sexual abuse. He also initiated talks with a lawyer with a view to renegotiating his civil compensation claim.
Josif remained sceptical about the school’s management of claims of abuse and felt that, despite numerous complaints about various teachers, protecting the reputation of the school remained their priority. He said he didn’t really care about Nicks’s fate.
‘The most important thing for me by far is public transparency and the way that [the school] have dealt with things and acknowledging and taking responsibility for the fact that … they put the school before the children and that they knew. I mean I can’t prove this, but that they knew about it at the time and knew about it when I went to see them. They have had a practice of, I think, trying to silence victims and pay them and sign confidentiality agreements, and I would like to see that the institutional response to child sexual assault as played out by [the school] is made public.’