Reilly was adopted by a family who owned a small business in Queensland. They wanted him to have a good education, so in the 1970s, when he was a teenager, they sent him to an independent boarding school. Reilly felt homesick and alone, having been dropped into a culture of ubiquitous bullying. He was ‘easy prey’ for the school counsellor, who became ‘a surrogate father’ to him. ‘It was hard. It was horrendous’, he said.
Reilly was vulnerable because he had a condition which caused him great embarrassment, particularly in the locker rooms. ‘It was awful’, he said. ‘There they are picking all these international rugby sides and I’ve got to stand around naked with other guys.’
With a rapidly growing body that he felt was ‘out of control’, Reilly sought help from the school counsellor, Len Murphy, who he described as a conniving, manipulative and weird person who ‘worked on my weakness’. The counsellor used massage to soothe Reilly, ‘but then it got worse and worse and worse’. He created a situation in which Reilly relied on him and was terrified of getting caught. The experience was ‘awful’ and ‘crushing’.
By the time he was in Year 10, Reilly was drinking heavily and taking antidepressants. He also dealt with his frustration by rebelling and becoming a bully. ‘I can't forgive myself for the way I behaved on the footy field and off the footy field. I was a bully and it's disgusted me ever since that day.’ He recalled an incident in which he could have killed another student. ‘It gives me nightmares today’, he said.
Reilly told a teacher that Murphy was ‘making sexual advances’. However, this teacher laughed at Reilly, and afterwards pilloried and humiliated him, which only served to further drive Reilly’s bullying behaviour. He also told his mother, while drunk, that ‘I've got a lot of problems’. She ‘just blocked it off’ and said he should talk to a doctor. Reilly was disappointed with this ‘aversion policy’, with the fact that ‘no one took it on board’.
The school’s culture of bullying was accompanied by a culture of open secrecy ‘which allowed Murphy to survive’. When Reilly bashed a teacher for making a lewd remark about him and Murphy, another teacher intervened to stop it being reported to the headmaster. The humiliation cut deep, and even though Reilly was ‘a big lump of a lad’ capable of hurting someone, he knew he could not speak out about the abuse.
When Reilly left school he took a job that required him to abide by strict codes of conduct which, all of a sudden, gave him useful restraints and boundaries. He left the job and worked in various industries. However, to support his gambling addiction, he stole from one of his companies, and went to jail which enabled him to get his life ‘back in order’.
The sexual abuse Reilly suffered impacted his life in many ways. He drank and gambled away his family’s money, and for a time, considered himself to be a ‘professional liar’. He travelled widely and often so that he didn’t have to be close to people, or sustain friendships, or fear that he would hurt anyone. He also regarded sex as ‘a husband’s chore’, is estranged from his sibling and adult children, and admitted that he could be ‘an absolute dog’.
Reilly was able to outrun his problems for many years until, a decade ago, he experienced a ‘meltdown’ and was referred to a psychologist who ‘got in there’ and opened him up. ‘Without the support of the psychologist I’ve been going to, I don’t think I would have got to this stage. I’ve been pretty much a tangent of destruction’, he said. Even so, he does not wish to speak to the police, and does not feel physically or mentally able to do so.
The words ‘survivor’ and ‘victim’ don’t sit well with Reilly. Instead, he sees himself as having been ‘unlucky’ to have had his potential ‘taken away by one little man and the cronies at the school that I believed looked after him’. He is supported by his ‘strong wife’ of 30 years, and feels ‘just lucky to be where I am now’. Despite his experiences, he managed to make something of his life, even though ‘it was on shonky foundations’.