‘I describe it as preying on high school students. I was prey.’
When Lyle started university at the age of 17, he went to a student counsellor because he was experiencing symptoms of anxiety. What followed was years of abuse and then further years where Lyle pursued justice.
‘From the very first session I had with him, he sat next to me and put his arm around me. I felt very uncomfortable. I thought this was really inappropriate but I’m 17 and I actually have no idea what’s wrong and what isn’t. This is a health service provided by the university. And in the counselling [the counsellor] suggested to me somehow, over the number of sessions I had at that period of time … that actually I may have a sexual identity issue.’
Lyle believes his counsellor, Douglas Evans, was grooming him. ‘He put inside my head a doubt about my sexuality. He caused the confusion which played on me for the next two years while I was at university.’
Lyle didn’t see Evans in his second year but as an adult in his third year, he returned to counselling. Even though Lyle was attracted to women, the thought that he might be gay got in the way of making male friendships. He said Evans, who was about 50 at the time, made him feel safe. Throughout that year, Lyle saw him for counselling every week.
At one point, Evans suggested counselling at his house. It was there that he made a sexual advance that Lyle rebuffed. He reported this to another counsellor who disclosed it to Evans, her supervisor. ‘Evans yelled at me furiously, “Don’t you ever say anything like that again!” And I didn’t.’
After that Evans offered to organise for Lyle to see a sex worker. He declined. The counselling continued and became sexual. All the while Lyle thought he was undergoing therapy and that Evans was helping him. But he wasn’t comfortable and, at one point when Evans and he were away with a group of students on an ‘encounter group’, Lyle threatened to tell the others. Evans dared him to. Lyle stayed silent but ended the therapy.
Lyle graduated and got a job. A work incident, unrelated to sex or abuse, triggered a breakdown. In distress, he called Evans who talked him through it. ‘Evans saved my life.’
After that, counselling and sexual contact with Evans was re-established. It continued until Lyle was in his late 20s.
It wasn’t until Lyle was in his 30s that he realised Evans had groomed him. He discovered that Evans had been dismissed from the university due to multiple sexual harassment allegations. He also met another victim. Lyle decided to make a formal disclosure to the university and met with the vice-chancellor.
After years of legal proceedings, Lyle accepted a payout from the university and signed a deed of release. He was also pressured, quite aggressively, by his own lawyer to accept the offer.
Lyle wanted acknowledgement for what happened to him and feels he didn’t get that. Instead the university covered it up. He wanted an inquiry into what happened to him and other victims from that time. Instead he got a letter from the university saying they would take steps to ensure this wouldn’t happen again, and they wouldn’t be looking into Lyle’s case.
Lyle is incredulous that Evans was allowed to stay in the workforce. A few years after the settlement Lyle went to the police but didn’t make a formal complaint because he believed his deed of release prevented him from doing so. He was told by the police that Evans was known to them.
Despite all his efforts Lyle doesn’t feel the university has been held to account. He is frustrated that it’s made no public acknowledgement for what happened.
‘It’s really important to me that this comes out … that this enters the public domain. Really important to me’.