‘I came from a close, warm and loving home.’ It was Lance’s strong and supportive family environment that allowed him to disclose to his parents the sexual abuse by Mr King at an independent private school in Victoria.
The abuse occurred in the early 1950s and involved King, who was in charge of school sports, lining up the class of Year 5 students, telling them to take their clothes off, then going along the line with soap and fondling boys’ genitals before sending them off for a shower. When Lance told his parents what King was doing, his father immediately withdrew his son from the school.
Lance was grateful his father had taken swift action. His parents, who’d always encouraged their children to speak openly about anything that troubled them, had believed Lance without question.
He wondered how things might have played out had his father not acted and thought his life could well have been ‘a disaster’. ‘How else do you rescue yourself from those circumstances?’
In his marriage of over four decades, Lance and his wife had replicated openness and willingness to listen with their children and grandchildren, often letting them know they could talk about anything with their parents.
King made no attempt to hide his behaviour, nor did he threaten the boys or tell them to keep what was happening secret. Lance said there was no possibility of disclosing the abuse to the headmaster who was rigid, strict and unapproachable. ‘He was almost military style. We were told he was ex-Navy. We all had to line up like there was a ship coming into port.’ Nevertheless, Lance suspected other teachers in the school knew about King’s behaviour. Some seemed to grant extra leeway when students didn’t behave, while others made asides that suggested they understood the cause of boys’ difficulties.
From being told he wasn’t up to the level required in his studies, Lance thrived in his new state school. He attended university and became a doctor. Throughout his career he’d been mindful of making his clinic a safe place for patients, and ensured the presence of a parent or guardian when he was with a child or a chaperone when undertaking sensitive or invasive procedures with adults.
He encouraged the same amongst colleagues, some of whose practices made them vulnerable to behaviour that wasn’t safe - for patient and practitioner. He said developing safe practices wasn’t really taught in medical school or incorporated into training, and that Medical Boards were positioned well to provide leadership in the area. Although insurance companies increasingly issued guidelines to medical staff, Lance said it wasn’t ‘in the big print’ and needed to be more readily adapted to practitioners’ needs.
Lance told the Commissioner he hadn’t given the sexual abuse much thought until the advent of the Royal Commission and a chance conversation with another ex-student of the school. That his eldest grandchild was nearing the age Lance was at the time of the abuse was another trigger. He’d recently disclosed the abuse to a medical colleague and was taken aback by his response. ‘He said, “Why are you talking about this? Much worse things have happened to people”. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him since.’
Minimising the abuse was something Lance had done throughout his own life, but hearing it from a colleague was troubling. ‘I know the trauma is nothing like what other people go through, but nevertheless it’s illegal.’
He’d also recently told his own general practitioner. ‘He said, “Do you mean you’ve been sitting on this for 60 years?” That was the end of the discussion. What value is that? That’s of no value to me. It’s like any situation, you want people to listen. A lot of therapy is listening, that’s probably the most important part of it, just letting people talk. That’s what I do with my patients, let them talk and eventually they will if they think you’re listening to them.’