‘This has taken it out of me so much. I mean I’ve been trying to get this bastard in jail for 18 years. And it really honestly feels like I’m going to be dealing with this for the next 18 years before I get him in jail … I can’t see any end to this. I honestly can’t’, Kurtley told the Commissioner.
As his support person Margie explained, Kurtley’s experience illustrates a problem with child sexual assault legislation in his home state of Tasmania. As a Grade 6 student in the late 1960s, Kurtley was repeatedly abused throughout the year by the school principal, Marcus Brandon. Kurtley recalls the abuse vividly.
‘He’d take me into his office and he’d always lock the door behind me. He was always really really mean … He used to always say “If you fuckin tell anybody what’s going on, you know what I’ll do to you” - and I’d just say to him “Yes”. But I didn’t know. I was only 11. He used to pull my pants down or make me pull my pants down – he used to pull his pants down and he used to sit me on his knee and he used to masturbate me, and then give me tissues to clean myself up … He was really, really brutal to me.’
But while Kurtley can describe what happened he can’t say exactly when it happened. Without those details, a prosecution can’t proceed.
Margie explained. ‘There is no legislation to cover multiple sexual assaults on a child if they cannot be specific about instances, so if you can only say this happened almost daily over a period of a year while I was in Grade 6 – Kurtley can describe what happened to him but he can’t say, "This was the day I got caned and he did this, and this was the day I got pulled out of this class and he did this". There is no charge to cover that and I think that’s a really missing part of our legislation.'
Kurtley didn’t say anything about Brandon’s abuse at the time. ‘I was terrified of this bloke. He drummed it into my head not to tell anybody.’ But in the mid-1990s he told his girlfriend, who urged him to take action. He was living in Victoria and contacted Victims of Crime, Victoria. Because the abuse had occurred in Tasmania, there was nothing they could do. But they didn’t tell Kurtley that, or refer him to Tasmanian authorities. Instead, as the years passed and he telephoned from time to time to find out what was happening, they led him to believe the matter was being investigated. They eventually provided him with some free counselling sessions.
Some 15 years later, by now living in Tasmania again, Kurtley approached Victims of Crime Tasmania, who advised him to make a statement to police. An investigation was launched, and discovered many more victims. ‘After I came forward 30 more came forward against the same bloke’, Kurtley said. ‘I used to walk past his office and I’d see a line of girls and boys. And I knew they were all going for the cane … but I never knew he was molesting them all as well.’
At the time of Kurtley’s visit to the Royal Commission, Brandon was awaiting trial on numerous child sex offences. Kurtley was expecting to give evidence in support of the prosecution. But he was deeply disappointed that Brandon’s assaults against him were not among the charges.
‘That sucks’, he said. ‘I’m not allowed to get any justice out of this at all. Nothing. I can never have closure on this. They’re not going to charge him for what he did to me … That’s just wrong.’ He’d also discovered that because of the Statute of Limitations he wouldn’t be able to pursue a case for negligence against the Department of Education – another enormous disappointment.
When he first started school Kurtley was a straight-A student. He loved school, he said. ‘I had a real passion for it. I had a real thirst for knowledge.’ But after his experiences in Grade 6, that changed. ‘By the time I got to high school I was just a mess. I became a very rebellious kid and just got into a lot of trouble.’ He was eventually expelled from high school. As a teenager, he suffered a bad accident which left him unable to work. ‘Ever since my accident I just became a no-hoper’, he said.
Kurtley lives alone, in the small Tasmanian town where he grew up. The impact of the abuse is with him every day. ‘I’m a hermit. I’ve got hardly any friends left. I don’t go anywhere, I don’t do anything, it’s starting to affect my health – I used to be so athletic, I used to just be so active, but now I just don’t do anything. Now I drive to the shop 300 metres so I don’t have to speak to anybody.’
The town is remote and has very little in the way of services. Kurtley is in contact with support agencies by phone and is grateful for the help they offer. ‘If it wasn’t for [them] I don’t know what I would have done by now.’ He is not sure if he has the strength to explore other options for redress.
‘I don’t know if I’ve even got the energy to make it through today. It’s taken it out of me so much. I mean, I’ll keep on going, I’ll keep on battling on. The main thing is that it sucks that they’re not going to charge him for what he did to me.’