Millie’s husband Rob was sexually abused as a student at a Catholic boarding school in Melbourne in the 1970s. Rob didn’t want to speak about his experiences to the Royal Commission, and he didn’t want Millie to either. But she came anyway – ‘I did it for me’, she said.
Millie told the Commissioner she realised early in their marriage that ‘all was not well in Rob’s inner world’.
‘Our love for one another had been strong and undeniable’, she said, reading aloud from a statement she had written. While she was always the more expressive one, she never doubted his feelings for her. But as time went on he became more withdrawn and angry. He was self-employed and though he worked he didn’t seem able to earn much. He didn’t want to have sex. He looked older than his years.
Millie tried to talk about the issues in their lives, but everything she said was seen by Rob as a criticism or an accusation. ‘His denial became avoidance and deflection and defensive strategy became a way of being. We were engaged in a battle but I didn’t know it. I just loved my man and wondered what had happened to his love for me.’
One day, finally, he told her that as a high school student he’d been sexually assaulted by one of his teachers, Father Loxton. ‘At the time my relief was probably greater than the unburdening he felt, at having disclosed this secret of more than 20 years ... In my supreme naivety I assured [him] that this disclosure would be a turning point and we would work through the issues together. He had my total support and we would get there – there would be justice.’
The couple approached Father Alexander, who’d been principal of the school at the time. He referred them to the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. The later discovery that Father Alexander had also sexually abused the students in his care was deeply traumatising for both Rob and Millie, as was their experience of Towards Healing.
Millie said that most important to Rob was ensuring that Father Loxton would not be in a position to harm anyone else. The Church’s representatives however were focussed on reaching a settlement. Their approach was both legalistic and bullying – at one meeting Rob and Millie attended, Rob was told he needed to take some responsibility for what had occurred. There were other issues too: communication was poor, procedures were unclear and drawn out, confidentiality was compromised, assurances were given and not kept. All this even though Father Loxton, contacted as part of the process, admitted to sexually assaulting Rob.
In the early 2000s, with Millie’s support, Rob reported Father Loxton to Victorian police. Other victims came forward, and a committal hearing was scheduled.
‘Approaching the Magistrates’ Court in Melbourne alongside Rob was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do. Everything about the day was foreign to us’, Millie told the Commissioner. As a result of the evidence presented at the hearing, Loxton decided to plead guilty.
Some months later he was sentenced to two years in prison. The magistrate, who had disclosed she was Catholic, spoke of mitigating factors and how difficult the sentencing had been. Sitting in the courtroom on her own and listening to this was yet another painful experience for Millie. The length of the prison term was later appealed, and increased.
For many years, the shame Rob felt about the abuse meant he insisted the couple keep it a secret. ‘When we did agree to share the story, gradually, with a select few … our disappointment was great. People did not know how to react, and our sense of isolation within our pain began snowballing’, Millie said.
At one point, things got so bad Millie felt she couldn’t carry on in the relationship. But she was dismayed when family and friends all took her side. ‘Everyone criticised Rob. The beautiful human being that is within Rob was no longer visible to anyone except me. I felt alone.’
Millie did leave Rob, but only for a day.
‘I’m sure there are others like me but we are not acknowledged for our commitment to our partners’, she told the Commissioner. ‘[The] commitment we make is to continue to put the blame where it belongs.’ Drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide, psychiatric disturbance, difficulties with trust, disrespect and more are all simply responses to horrific dehumanising experiences, she said. ‘Although confronting, people need to do all they can to remove the stigma for victims, care for them in meaningful ways and place the shame on the perpetrators and the systems that maintain them.’
Regular counselling is helping the couple, but Rob still wishes he had never disclosed the abuse and Millie feels deep guilt that she persuaded him a just outcome was possible.
‘The outcomes have been pain and suffering, with humiliation and an even greater sense of failure thrown in’, she said. ‘Day to day life remains difficult for us both.'
‘Repeatedly in life I feel my own pain trivialised and discounted, and an unwillingness in others to accept the tangible realities of the abuse’s impact. My sense that I’ve been dropped at the bottom of a hill with Rob persists and I’ve infected the people I love most – my parents, my brother, my son – with the same curse. The ripple effects seem endless.’