‘I’m giving evidence to you as part of a process of trying to get on with my life, as I struggle daily to overcome what happened to me’, Renny told the Commissioner.
Renny came to the Commission with a statement he had prepared for a victims of crime compensation claim. Lodged in Tasmania, the claim has recently been successful. As a result, Renny will be able to afford treatment for some of the ongoing issues he faces after being violently sexually assaulted as a nine year old in a Catholic primary school in the late 1980s.
Renny was in Grade 3 at the time. His class was being taught by a temporary teacher because the usual teacher was on extended leave. One day not long after the temporary teacher arrived, he sent the children out into the playground and told Renny to stay back. He took Renny into an alcove next to the classroom, put his hands down Renny’s shorts and fondled him. Then he made Renny do the same to him until he ejaculated.
Numerous episodes of abuse occurred after that, becoming increasingly aggressive and severe. The teacher took Renny to an empty cottage on the school grounds and made him perform oral sex. When Renny resisted, the teacher ‘rammed’ his penis into Renny’s mouth. ‘He continued to do this over and over – I was gagging every time', Renny said. 'He continued to do this even after I’d stopped trying to fight.’
The teacher also digitally penetrated Renny and attempted to anally rape him.
‘On every occasion that this abuse took place I was petrified, and would go and hide once he let me go. Nothing was more petrifying than gagging for air and him not taking his penis out.’
The teacher used various threats to ensure Renny told no one about the abuse. He said Renny would get into trouble at school and with his parents. Renny would be held back a year and have to repeat Grade 3. If he couldn’t do what he was doing to Renny, he’d do it to his younger sister instead.
‘At the time I didn’t have an understanding about what he was doing to me’, Renny said. ‘But I did have enough understanding to know that I didn’t want it to happen to my sister.’
Living in fear of the abuse and of the consequences if he spoke about it, Renny began acting up. He started fights and he didn’t do what he was told. He’d worked out that he’d be punished with detention – and that meant sitting on a chair outside the principal’s office, where he would be safe.
After two or three months the class teacher returned and the temporary teacher left the school. At the end of the year, the class teacher called Renny’s mother in for a meeting, to raise concerns about his readiness for Grade 4.
‘This was months after he had left and I remember the day like yesterday, because it made me think that, even though he was not at the school, he was still able to do things he was threatening to do’, Renny said.
Renny didn’t speak to anyone about the abuse until he was 21. Eventually, while under the influence of cannabis and amphetamines, he told his mother. By then he was a heavy drug and alcohol user. He had been for years, since discovering at age 12 that smoking cannabis helped control the terrifying nightmares and flashbacks. He’d left home when he was 17 specifically so he could increase his intake of drugs and alcohol, as by then he’d found that only frequent use helped dull the panic attacks, anxiety, flashbacks and nightmares.
Over the next four years his consumption of alcohol and drugs escalated dramatically. He added cocaine and amphetamines to the mix. He became close to an outlaw bikie gang, which provided him with cheap drugs and also made him feel safe. He got involved in petty crime.
He was suicidal often – the week before speaking to his mother, he tried to hang himself.
Disclosing the abuse didn’t magically change Renny’s life. But it made a difference. In the years since he has given up drugs and alcohol, studied at university and found ongoing work as a health practitioner. He still faces daily struggles with low self-esteem, depression and inter-personal relationships. He didn’t brush his teeth for 20 years – putting a toothbrush into his mouth made him gag – and, as a result, needs major dental work. He recently received the first stage of this treatment, under general anaesthetic.
He takes antidepressants and other medications, sees a psychiatrist regularly, and practises mindfulness and meditation.
Renny hasn’t reported the sexual assaults to police, partly because of his mental fragility and also because while he knows his abuser’s face he’s not certain of his name. His parents approached Towards Healing on his behalf to seek records from the school but were told none existed. The family’s efforts to identify the teacher continue. Renny hoped his visit to the Commission might lead to new avenues of inquiry. But mainly, he wanted his experiences on the record.
‘I’m here as my way of it being recognised that this happened to me’, he said.