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Milton James's story

Milton had a happy childhood in a working-class suburb of Melbourne during the Second's Story World War, and was top of the class at his local primary school. When he was 11 years old he started at a nearby Protestant college. He was reluctant to go and found it hard to adapt. His grades plummeted and he felt alienated from his neighbourhood friends now that he went to a private school.

The college was very regimented, with a culture of bullying and physical violence from both staff and students. Being small for his age, Milton was an easy target. One teacher hit him so hard with a ruler that he needed stitches, and he still bears the scar almost seven decades later. Some of his classmates would beat him, and often dangled him out of a window above a concrete walkway.

One of his teachers, Mr Dickson, would punish Milton for talking during class by making him come to the front of the room and stand on a chair with his back to the other students. Dickson would then lift up the legs of Milton’s shorts and beat him with a ruler. As he did so he would use his free hand to fondle Milton’s genitals and sometimes digitally penetrate him, telling him he was a ‘naughty boy’.

This abuse took place on around a dozen occasions during Milton’s first year at the school, and he could never predict when he would next be ‘punished’.

‘It’s not the amount … it’s you not knowing when they were going to happen.’

At the time he was embarrassed that his fellow students witnessed him being abused, even though he wasn’t the only one. ‘There were probably one or two others ... But nobody spoke about it, not amongst the class ... There was no opportunity for addressing the situation.’

Believing he was somehow to blame for the abuse, Milton would pray for forgiveness every night. This guilt and feeling of responsibility prevented him from speaking about it. ‘I really believed it was my fault. I just couldn’t take it to my parents, I couldn’t take it to anybody.’

When Milton was 15 another boy tried to wrestle and ‘capture me. Now what that would have led to, I don’t know, but there was a lot of thrusting and grunting by him so I presume it was a juvenile rape’.

This was the catalyst for Milton leaving school, and he went off working around the country. This was a great experience, and he felt respected by the people he met along the way. Working in a number of careers, he finally went back to study and became successful in his chosen field. However, he had trust issues, experienced depression, and over the years has seen various psychologists and counsellors. He’s also been prescribed medication to manage his mental health.

The first time Milton disclosed the abuse was to his wife when he was in his 40s. She was supportive and suggested he approach the college, but when he did so they bluntly told him the statute of limitations had passed and there was nothing they could do.

With most of his family gone, he has only just disclosed to his elderly sister, who is the single family member, aside from his wife, to know of his experiences.

Recently the college was in the media regarding other instances of sexual abuse, and Milton wrote to the new principal. ‘The case I have against the school is much broader than this one year of fairly concentrated sexual abuse.’

The principal replied, accepting his report, apologising and taking responsibility. He also offered counselling from the school’s psychologist, but Milton declined. He sought legal representation and approached the school again in regards to compensation, and was sent for an independent psychological evaluation.

The matter has not yet been finalised, but ‘the school has fully accepted responsibility and is wanting a settlement out of court’. He has also reported the matter to police, although Dickson is now deceased.

Milton knows that Dickson continued to abuse boys into the 1960s, and wonders how many others have died ‘without resolving the pain they carried for far too long’. Conscious of getting older, he wants to lay the matter to rest for himself before his time comes.

‘There was something about [old age] ... You’ve got so much behind you that still concerns you and you haven’t resolved, and you look at the calendar and think, how much time have I got to resolve the things I need to?’

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