Rhys grew up as an only child living with his mother. He joined the Big Brother program run by the Catholic Church and was matched with Bill Bentley, a man in his 50s.
Bentley organised fun activities that Rhys enjoyed. He did things like let Rhys sit on his lap and drive. As Rhys recalled in his written statement that he read to the Commissioner: ‘With hindsight it’s plainly obvious that my so-called Big Brother groomed me for about a year with the express purpose of abuse in the future’.
The abuse first involved sexual touching, when Rhys was 12, and after a few occasions, masturbating him.
‘The first time I thought maybe everyone goes through this, I don’t know, I just didn’t know. But the third time I could feel it in my guts it wasn’t right. I could feel it. And I shut it down. I stopped it.’
Rhys told his mother. He had to tell her three times before she believed him. She wrote a letter to the local church informing them what happened. Meanwhile, Bentley turned up again to pick Rhys up. ‘I said, “No way”.’
Church staff wrote back but didn’t acknowledge the abuse. Instead they said the Big Brother program was shutting down and invited them to a celebration of its success. Rhys later found out that Bentley attended that party. He considers this an ‘incomprehensible and deliberate failure’ on behalf of the Catholic Church.
As an adult Rhys gets panic attacks. He has been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and panic disorder and has self-medicated with alcohol. Seeing Pell and the Ballarat story on TV was triggering and made him worse.
‘Men won’t accept help until they are right at rock bottom and by then they can’t afford a shrink.’
About five years ago Rhys started seeing psychologists and psychiatrists for the first time. He discovered there was more work to be done that he expected. ‘It’s not three visits to a shrink. I’ve wanted it to be but it’s not.’ He also finds it helpful to learn about the impacts of child sexual abuse and has done a lot of reading on the subject.
He feels his emotional development stopped after the first abuse. He listens to 1980s music because that pre-dates the abuse to a time when he was happy. He’s saddened by the sound of children laughing. He used to worry about becoming an abuser. ‘I was scared to death of having kids.’
Rhys does have friends but feels he is unable to form deep relationships even though he describes his abuse as ‘comparatively mild’. A number of important relationships have ended due to his inability to commit. ‘It’s like saying I’m going to become the world’s best tennis player and starting at 42. It doesn’t happen. You’ve got to learn things and you’ve got to set pathways in your brain when you are very young.’
He finds it hard to explain the impacts of sexual abuse due to its personal and intrinsic nature. He finds that ‘non-victims’ haven’t known how to handle it when he’s disclosed, furthering his sense of isolation.
When Rhys was 15 he received a visit from a police officer asking him to make a report about Bentley, but Rhys wasn’t ready to deal with it then. At that time he received no counselling or other support and had to cope on his own.
In the early 2010s he first reported it to the police but the officer he saw didn’t seem interested and conducted the interview in the open plan office. More recently he reported it again and this time the police were excellent. Bentley has subsequently been charged.
In terms of redress, Rhys noted that the letters from his lawyers to the Catholic Church have gone unanswered. ‘Just exactly the same as when my mum wrote them letters years ago.’
‘I don’t really care if people think I am chasing money because I’ve thought about this long and hard. And they took something from me, I’m going to take something from them. I’m going to force them to give me something’, Rhys told the Commissioner.
‘And everyone’s going to know. I’m going to shine a light on it and I’m going to take something from you in the hope that you don’t do it again. And the next letter that comes across that desk, you read it and you get on it. And it’s the same with the perpetrator. I was really apprehensive. I thought this guy’s almost dead. He’s got to be mid-80s. He’s got a family. They’re all going to know. Blah, blah, blah. And then I thought “No, no. He’s not getting away with it. Nuh. I’ll call him out. I’ll call him out”. I’ve got no problems with that.’