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Paul Kenneth's story

‘I’d seen Julia Gillard on the news a couple of years ago announcing the Commission, and I decided to look at the website and I found these stories. I found these hundreds of stories … I read and read and read. And I felt that I could grab snippets of these stories, these phrases, situations, and I could piece them all together and all of a sudden there was my story.’

Paul’s story begins in Tasmania in the 1970s when he was a 12-year-old student. At a school camp one day he met a teacher named Josh Meyer. ‘He was this tall man, he was young’ Paul recalled. ‘I have to be honest, I thought he was handsome. I was a kid and I liked him. He looked like a nice man.’

Meyer took an interest in Paul and would ‘pop up’ frequently at school to chat to him. Paul developed a ‘crush’ on Meyer and enjoyed the attention. Soon he started going out with Meyer on weekends. At this stage the relationship was ‘innocent’, Paul said. Nothing untoward happened and Paul felt confident that he could trust Meyer. It seemed like everyone felt that way.

‘There was a real presence to him. He was confident, he was bold. My parents liked him. They trusted him. I think he had a persuasive nature.’

After a trip to the beach one weekend, Meyer took Paul back to his flat, showed him a ‘girly magazine’ and started asking him about sex. ‘Sitting on this couch, he’s flicking through these pages, asking me if I was interested in the pictures, and sort of turned into a little bit of play wrestling.’

Then ‘in a flash’ Meyer picked Paul up and took him to the bedroom. There he masturbated Paul and got Paul to do the same to him. ‘I was terrified’, Paul said, ‘but I didn’t ask him to stop. I liked him … I did have a crush on him’.

Over the summer holidays the abuse escalated. ‘The physical nature of what went on became more and more involved. I still liked him. At the back of my mind I knew something was wrong about what was going on.’

Early in the next school year some of Paul’s classmates spotted him heading up to a secluded flat with Meyer.

‘The next day at school everyone knows about this. It was awful. It was terrible. I just felt like I was the only person in the world like this, or that this could be happening to. I felt isolated because I’m having this intense relationship with this person that I can’t tell anyone about – kids are finding out about it, kids hated me.

‘It’s hard enough being gay. This is … the 1970s, so you’re going to get picked on a bit. I know that happens. It’s a hard road to travel. If that’s happening and then on top of this everyone’s got the suspicion that you’re having some sort of relationship with a teacher, and it’s true so you can’t even deny it, you can’t even say it’s not true – it was just an awful time.’

Though the relationship was soon an open secret at the school, only one teacher ever raised it with Paul, and his intervention did more harm than good. ‘He implied it was me who should do something about it, that I should make it stop. I’m 12. I had no idea.’

Meyer moved away at the end of the year.

‘And that was it … I just felt completely alone. I was pretty devastated. It’s quite isolating, having a very intense experience when you’re so young. I had a few friends at school. I did. I’ve made it sound like I had absolutely nobody. I had my friends but … who can you talk to about that?’

For the next three decades of his life, Paul minimised the significance of Meyer’s abuse, telling himself that it wasn’t a big deal and that he was as much to blame as Meyer. When he read the stories in the Royal Commission’s Interim Report and spoke to some Commission staff, his attitude slowly began to change.

With Paul’s consent, Royal Commission staff referred his case to police. Later that same day the police called Paul and informed him that several other men had complained about Meyer. They asked if he was willing to join the case. After deliberation Paul said that he was, but he still felt conflicted.

‘The struggle I had was that I liked this man. I did. And I can’t help trying to feel responsible for it somehow. So it’s a hard thing to be sending someone to jail for something at the time you – I knew it was wrong and I was scared about it sometimes, but I liked it as well.’

Meyer eventually pled guilty to multiple counts of child sexual abuse, including the most serious of the offences against Paul. Afterwards, as Paul prepared for his session with the Royal Commission, he found that some of his confusion about the abuse had fallen away and he’d found a new perspective.

‘It’s like “Listen, Paul, it’s not your fault. He’s the one that’s done everything wrong” … It’s good to hear it over and over again because you live with it … years of just hanging onto it, thinking all it was just some sort of inappropriate relationship. And there’s this whole period now of realising there was nothing fair about it, there’s nothing equal. I had no say in it. He had complete control.’

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