Preston's story

From an early age, Preston had ‘problematic’ interactions with the adults in his life. ‘Like any child, I wanted love, attention and affection from my parents, but there was none of that around me. My father subscribed to the view that children should neither be seen nor heard and my attempts to engage with him lovingly were rebuffed.’

His parents would regularly hit him with their hands, a wooden spoon, or a jockey’s whip. ‘Being beaten by adults was the norm, from my earliest memories. And I found most of it unjust at the time. I had a kind of conflicted relationship with these authority figures.’

His family moved around a lot, and he changed schools often. Most of the schools he went to used corporal punishment. ‘There was nowhere to go where you weren’t at danger of being beaten by adults.’

Preston became accustomed to random reprimands. ‘It was kind of normalised, by that stage, that there’d by some kind of harsh and ugly punishment, for things that I didn’t really do.’

Complaining about the actions of adults was perceived as ‘a sign of disrespect, and you were punished for disrespect’. When Preston was sexually abused at his Anglican school in Tasmania, he didn’t get any support from his family.

The abuse began when he was 10 years old, shortly after Preston started at the school. The first time, ‘I understood that I was going to be taken to the chaplain's office for punishment. In the chaplain's office, he made me lie on his lap and instead of hitting me with a cane as I expected, he began touching me’.

He was sexually abused by the chaplain, and possibly other men, a number of times. Preston remembers always being given something to drink – lemonade, lemon water, tea – which appeared to contain drugs that made him feel ‘zonked’.

‘I have clear memories of two assaults and one rape, and an additional memory that ends with being alone with several men (senior staff) and being given a tablet to reduce the pain of the “punishment”.’

Preston believes he was abused numerous other times, but that being heavily drugged has made him unable to remember every incident. He recalls ‘being just ill, strangely ill’ at school many afternoons, and falling asleep in class. Almost 30 years later, Preston is still struck by ‘enormous anxiety’ whenever somebody hands him a drink.

He was all alone with the abuse. ‘The only people I told at the time were my parents, but they didn't care, and/or didn't really believe me. I doubt they listened ... At the time, there was nowhere to turn for help, and I immersed myself in distractions, but my physical and emotional health quickly declined.’

After this, Preston didn’t remember the abuse for many years. Recently, however, ‘I had all the memories clearly return to me. ... I wasn’t sure if I was going crazy, or what was happening. ... Lots of triggers were coming up, I found myself acting emotionally in response to things, in ways that I didn’t understand’.

Since he began remembering the abuse, it has been hard not to think of it constantly. ‘I’ve gone from one to the other, from never, ever thinking about it, to thinking about it 50 times a day.’

Preston told the Royal Commission about the ongoing effects of the abuse. Although he went on to significant academic achievements at university, ‘I still feel like I am operating at a fraction of my capacities. My grades took a big dive, my ability to work productively, engage with people in general’.

His personal relationships were also affected. ‘It didn’t help me socially, I still don’t like being in rooms with people, I still don’t like the company of men if there’s only men around. My relationships work fine at a superficial level, but that’s the end of it.’

Preston is unable to enter into sexual relationships, has trust issues, and is scared others will take advantage of him. As a child, the chaplain ‘made me believe that there was something wrong with me and that I deserved the abuse’, and sometimes he still feels that way. He has experienced suicidal ideation, dissociation, flashbacks, insomnia and nightmares.

Reading books on psychology has helped him understand ‘how trauma affects people, has given some answer to that. It has also given me the courage to reach out to people to get help, which I’ve never really done before’.

From spending ‘the last 20 years trying to work out what’s wrong with me’, he now sees a clinical psychologist frequently, as well as a psychiatrist.

Preston intends to report this matter to police, and is investigating his legal options. He is aware that other children were also sexually abused at the school.

‘It’s one of the ugliest parts of being involved in this, is saying, “I’m glad it happened to other people too”. Because it’s an awful thing to think, but it does produce a little bit of comfort I guess.’

He considers the school’s redress scheme is ‘not a genuine process to provide redress to survivors’, and ‘the school is continuing to act in its own interest at the expense of survivors’ by prioritising its reputation over the truth of what happened there.

‘This is a profoundly hostile attitude. Maintaining the reputation of an institution should not supersede the facts of what is happening, and the protection of children.’

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