As a 14-year-old in South Australia in the 1960s, Peter was asked by his teacher, Mr Morris, to stay back after school one day and help with a woodwork project. He remembers how pleased he was to be asked.
When he arrived to help he was asked to go to the storage area to help get some wood. While he was there, Morris, ‘grabbed me and got his hands down my pants’. Morris eventually let Peter go, and Peter made sure he was never alone with the teacher again.
‘The actual level of offending wasn’t high’, Peter said. ‘But the effect of what he’d done has had a really long-lasting effect.’
Peter realises now that Morris knew how to groom children and which ones to look out for. In subsequent years he spoke to other boys who’d had similar experiences with Morris. Each of them had been singled out for individual attention and after meeting Morris alone were sexually abused.
In the 2000s, Peter reported the incident to police but was told that the South Australian Limitations Act prevented them taking any action. When the Act was repealed Peter again reported Morris to police and also encouraged the other victims to do the same. Statements from five men were eventually considered.
Peter had a positive experience in referring the matter to police and making a statement, with one of the officers being particularly helpful. This officer worked as part of a paedophilia taskforce and had a good understanding of the complexity of sexual abuse, and was understanding and readily available for Peter to talk to.
Peter and his wife Sandra felt that the courts and court support staff could have done more. It was always up to him to ring to find out about progress with the case. His messages were often not returned and he couldn’t understand why the matter was taking so long. Sandra said, ‘They opened a box that allowed people to walk through, but the support hasn’t been there’.
After Peter’s initial report to police he made a statement, and was then asked to provide a second statement some months later. In the first statement, Peter had referred to the school’s ‘passageway’ that led to the location of the abuse. In his second, he’d called it a hallway. In court, Morris’s lawyer asked him, ‘Well, what is it – a hallway or a passageway?’ Peter appreciated the judge telling the defendant’s lawyer to move on. He was also asked why he didn’t tell anyone about the abuse at the time. He broke down in court and said, ‘Well, I didn’t have anyone to tell’.
Peter told the Commissioner he had felt frustrated by continued delays in bringing the case to trial. Morris’s lawyer presented doctors’ reports so the matter was repeatedly adjourned. Morris was found guilty and, at the time of Peter’s session with the Royal Commission, was awaiting sentence.
‘Over 10 years of dealing with the justice system has left me wondering if it was all worth it’, Peter said. ‘But my goal has always been to make Morris accountable. I didn’t care if he got jailed. I wanted it acknowledged that he’d done it and recognition of the effects.’