Richard was raised in a large and very strict Catholic family in Sydney. ‘You never miss church. You wouldn’t dream of telling Mum and Dad "I’m not going to church".’ The family was happy and Richard got on well with his siblings.
Richard attended a Christian Brothers school in the late 1970s. Discipline was strict. ‘We even got the strap first day of school one year. We got six cuts on each hand. We had to line up outside the class even before we went in … He gave us six cuts of the leather strap on each hand and said, “This is what you get if you muck up in the class”. I remember sitting there thinking, “What have I done?”’
When Richard was in Grade 6 one of the teachers had money stolen from him. In an attempt to find the culprit, Richard’s teacher, Mr Lewis, made the entire class of boys strip naked.
‘We had our clothes and we had to stand up near the blackboard. Then one at a time we had to go to him and he went through our clothes and then we had to bend over and pull our butt cheeks apart in case we had the money shoved up our butt.’
Feeling humiliated, Richard did not report the incident to his parents. ‘Out of a class of 35 you’d think someone would’ve. But it was never brought up after that.’
Mr Lewis also used a tennis shoe to punish the boys. ‘He used to run his hand up your back when he’d push you over and he’d grab you around the back of your neck. To this day still I don’t like anyone touching my neck.’
Richard recalls never being allowed to draw the shower curtain in the change rooms while cleaning up after sports days. ‘I remember a Brother used to walk up and down while you were having a shower … I reckon he was getting his jollies.’
After the strip search incident, Richard began to find school life intolerable. His grades suffered and he dreaded going to school every day. He wanted to quit as early as he could, during Grade 10, but was told by his parents he had to have a job to go to. His father arranged for him to do an apprenticeship in a field that did not interest him, but Richard grabbed the chance anyway. ‘I said, “Yeah that’ll do”. Because I just wanted to get away.’
The impact of Richard’s childhood sexual abuse has been profound. ‘I did marijuana and all that. Drank excessively. And I don’t go to church. Only way I’d go to church is if it’s a funeral.’
Richard regrets the loss of opportunity from having left school early. He eventually fled New South Wales and moved interstate in an attempt to ‘get away from it all’. He has not sought counselling, preferring to push the past to the back of his mind. Despite this he has not been able to forget what happened to him. Richard has struggled with his self-esteem and has had bouts of depression requiring medication.
Richard’s marriage has been a success and he has benefitted from his wife’s support since he disclosed his experiences at school to her. He believes they have both been very protective of their children since then, reacting to the trauma.
Richard recalls having to send his daughter to a Christian school when he worked in rural Queensland. ‘I remember the principal there, watching him one day - he grabbed a girl around the back of the neck and he said, “Where are you going?” Every time she went to walk away he grabbed her again and he was laughing. That poor little kid was standing there and I said to my wife, “If he ever touches our daughter I’ll knock him out”. I don’t know whether there was anything in it but he just used to give me the creeps.’
Media reports of the Royal Commission’s work caught Richard’s attention. ‘I thought if I can share my story and stop one kid from getting abused - ’