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Matthew Christopher's story

Matthew was put into foster care in a small New South Wales town in the mid 1960s when he was less than a year old. ‘It should have been a good thing’, Matthew said. But before his 18th birthday he’d been sexually abused multiple times by four different perpetrators.

‘My first incidents of sexual abuse was my foster mother’, Matthew said. ‘And it ranged from showing me photos of naked women in magazines to actually touching me and asking me if I wanted her to show me how to have sex.’

Matthew was 11 when this abuse began. The experience degraded his confidence and warped his understanding of appropriate boundaries. As a result he was left vulnerable to other abusers. When he was 13, a man followed him into the toilets at the public library.

‘This guy came and started talking to me, and asked me if he could touch me, and at 13 years old I was in a total state of confusion, had no idea. I let him touch me.’

Some days later Matthew encountered the same man at the rehearsal for a local theatre production. It turned out the man was also in the show. His name was Neil Reevely and he was a friend of Matthew’s foster dad.

Matthew’s foster dad arranged for Reevely to drive Matthew to and from rehearsals. Reevely took full advantage of this situation and abused Matthew several more times until Matthew stood up to him and told him to stop.

It was not long after this that Matthew’s foster mother volunteered Matthew to do some renovation work for a friend of hers named Clive Johnson. Matthew went around to Johnson’s place and had been working for only a short while when Johnson took out a gay pornographic magazine and showed it to him.

‘I just kept on working. It didn’t strike me. I never – all this stuff had happened but I had this innocent mind. I didn’t know what a virgin was or what the word “root” meant … I should have expected that his designs were not just to give me work – but, you know, I trusted people.’

At the end of the day Johnson got Matthew drunk on spirits, then threw him down onto his bed and raped him. ‘I remember him saying, “I’m sorry, this is going to hurt”. And it damaged me. I still have a tear there, which every time I go to the toilet – yeah. Every time I go to the toilet, I’m reminded of what happened.’

After the rape, Johnson revealed that he knew about the abuse that Reevely had inflicted on Matthew. He used this information as a threat to keep Matthew quiet, saying, ‘No one’s going to believe you, because you’ve been having a bit of fun with old Neil’.

Matthew’s ‘final abuser’ was his school principal, Kevin Carnell. While at his Catholic high school Matthew had always gotten along with Carnell and had even confided in him a few times about his troubles at home. One day after he’d finished school he ran into Carnell in the street and the principal asked him to come out for dinner to catch up. Matthew was 17 at the time.

Dinner never happened and instead Matthew wound up back at Carnell’s hotel room where Carnell forced Matthew to masturbate him. The actual act, Matthew said, was relatively minor compared to what he’d been through but it became ‘the straw that really sort of broke me’.

A few weeks later he left town and moved to Sydney with the express purpose of becoming a heroin addict. ‘Most people, I think, don’t have that goal. They just end up using heroin and they become addicted. I wanted to become addicted.’

Matthew got what he wanted and soon discovered that addiction was expensive.

‘I worked out that you could get money from people for doing things that I’d done already. So I became a sex worker in the park in Kings Cross and on The Wall. And met some pretty rich people. I met several Catholic priests. They were the lousiest payers.’

Eventually he turned to petty theft and other crimes to supplement his income. He became increasingly angry and occasionally violent. He spent years in and out of jail until finally reaching a turning point.

‘I decided that I was not going to come out of jail the same person as I went in. So I accessed the counselling and I saw the chaplains, I had a deep spiritual experience that has stayed with me.’

He came out in the early 2000s ‘a changed person’. He was able to get off the drugs and steer away from crime. But he still couldn’t shake the anger. It was partly that anger that drove him to report Kevin Carnell to a Catholic bishop. The bishop told him to go to Towards Healing, and left it at that. Matthew wasn’t interested and dropped the whole thing.

Years later he got a call from a detective. The detective said he’d examined the bishop’s records and found Matthew’s details. He wanted Matthew to help him build a case against Carnell. For Matthew the phone call was a trigger for a major attack of anxiety and depression.

‘I couldn’t work, I couldn’t face people. I had a couple of suicide attempts. It wasn’t good for me, it wasn’t good for anyone.’

Matthew credits his partner with getting him through this dark time. ‘If I’d have been alone’, he said, ‘I’d be dead.’

Matthew has now joined with several other survivors in a criminal case against Kevin Carnell. He’s also met with a lawyer to explore taking civil action against the Catholic Church and the state. Financial compensation is important to survivors, he said, but so is the simple act of telling your story. Matthew described how, on his way into the Royal Commission, he stopped for coffee.

‘The café guy goes, “What are you doing in the city?” And I could have said, “I’ve just come down to visit”. But I said, “I’m here to tell my story to the Commissioner”. He goes, “Oh, I’ll leave it at that”. I went, “You don’t have to leave it at that, mate. These stories have got to be told”.’

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