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Mark James's story

‘The masters were very well-meaning. They went beyond what would be ordinarily expected. But in the hidden background was this terrible person who masqueraded as someone who would help, but really he had different intentions.’

Mark went to a private school in Queensland from the mid 1970s, at the start of Year 8. Although he said the school gave him an excellent education, his experience there was tainted by the sexual abuse he was subjected to by the school counsellor, Mr Brown. Brown targeted him when he was in Year 9.

‘I think he saw me and he said I looked tense or worried. I didn’t willingly go and seek him out. This was his early days of being a predator. And he made it look so innocuous …

‘It initially started off in a fairly non-threatening way, like this guy was actually trying to help me do things. And then it just changed.’

Brown started by getting Mark to do simple relaxation exercises. He got Mark back for more sessions where he had him loosen his clothes and started touching him. He asked questions about masturbation and wet dreams, telling Mark it was all natural and healthy.

‘Then he changes the relaxation exercises, and he uses it as a way of being able to touch me, and rub his arms down my legs and getting in my groin area and things.

‘I felt trapped. Before you’d even got outside the door he’d made another appointment for you. This is for boys who already need assistance and guidance in another way. He had it all worked out. He had a diary. He had everything ticked and crossed, and he was incredibly manipulative.’

In later sessions, Brown made Mark watch pornography and masturbate in front of him. Mark said he felt deeply ashamed about these times, because he couldn’t help his body’s natural response.

‘It was a Catch-22. You were trapped but you felt that you had participated in this. That’s why you felt you couldn’t say anything. You feel partly responsible.’

Mark couldn’t tell anybody about the abuse and kept it to himself. He continued at the school until the end of Year 12, but he said he was ‘all mixed up’ and didn’t understand why. He didn’t do as well as he’d hoped academically but did an extra course of study and got into his chosen degree course.

He had a loving and supportive family, and an especially good relationship with his brother. ‘But again, I had been sexually abused and I had no way of being able to tell anybody … You don’t like to be a whinger. You’ve seen people die of cancer, you’ve seen people die early, you’ve seen other people who’ve had strokes at 35.’

However, the impact on him was significant. He had enormous difficulty socialising. ‘This guy had shattered my confidence and how you relate to girls and things like that. Because it breaks your morale. You don’t have any self-worth.’

He married and had children but he has had lifelong sexual problems. He told his wife about the abuse.

‘I had to. I was so odd and so peculiar in so far as being able to interact. It was bizarre. And it stems from the idea you only get sexual gratification from masturbating in front of pornographic material. It was totally and utterly wrong in the extreme, without question.’

He said his wife is very supportive, but his difficulties have affected her greatly. He also told his GP, and is now on anti-anxiety medication.

He did not tell his family, but in the late '90s, news of Brown’s abuse of students at the school came out and he thinks they suspected something then.

‘I think my brother was aware. And it just would have been too shocking. They asked me. They did the right thing, they asked me. And I chose not to tell. Because it was just so horrendous.’

Brown later died and Mark said he was relieved, but also saddened that he wasn’t made accountable for his actions. If he were still alive, Mark would report Brown to police now ‘without question’. He is extremely disappointed in the school’s response to others who came forward about Brown.

‘I think the school would wish this issue would just go away … I know they mightn’t feel like they were the ones that did it but, at the end of the day, even if they feel they don’t have any legal responsibility, the lack of compassion has just been incredibly disappointing …

‘I would have no hesitation in going and saying, "This is what this guy did to me. He destroyed my late teenage years, my early 20s, up to the time that I was married." Because I was in no-person’s land. My compass had been completely thrown out.’

Mark said he would have reported Brown if there had been a safe place to do so, ‘but the culture of that school, it wouldn’t allow this’. He believes government has to step in with mandatory processes that will force every school in Australia to keep children safe.

Not long ago he had a significant health scare, and that’s what prompted him to tell his story.

‘It’s the right thing to do. I’ve been holding that in all those years and it’s just wrong … I’m still gobsmacked today, as an adult, to think that this guy was so incredibly deceptive.’

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