Richie was sexually abused by a sports coach at his Catholic high school, in the Australian Capital Territory. It was the mid-1980s, and Richie was 15. On three occasions the coach, Tony Young, accosted Richie when he was in the shower after training. Richie described the first time it happened like this:
‘All of a sudden from behind Tony Young approaches me. He’s got his pants down, his genitalia are exposed – basically [he] grabbed my penis and I went into complete and absolute shock. He got me erect and then he proceeded to masturbate me and then I didn’t know what to do.’ Afterwards, Young just left. Richie dressed, composed himself and got a ride home with his mother as he usually did after training. He didn’t tell her what had just happened.
‘I didn’t want my mother to know what I had just been through.’
The following week, it happened again. Richie had tried to protect himself by making sure other people were around. When Young came up to him, Richie reacted furiously. ‘I yelled at the top of my voice, “Fuck off”.’ The week after, Young again came up to Richie in the shower and tried to molest him. Richie again told him to ‘fuck off’, and lashed out at him.
‘So I had those three incidents. Then he sort of distanced himself from me and I distanced myself from him. And that was pretty much it, in a nutshell.’
The assaults had terrible consequences for Richie. His schoolwork suffered. Initially a high achieving student like his siblings, unlike them he barely scraped through his final year of school. Where they attained professional qualifications and developed successful careers, he dropped out of university early on. ‘I fell apart’, he said.
He also suffered emotionally, because of the abuse and also because of keeping it a secret from his parents.
‘As a result of the incidents … it’s put me into a situation where I feel emotion but don’t express it. So I’ve been very good at switching off emotions, because I had to switch off my emotions with my mother and my father, so from that point on all emotion was shut down, and I’ve been like that for 30 years until recently. Now I’m starting to get some emotion back. I’ll start to cry … which I haven’t done for 30 years.’
After leaving university he found work in a financial institution. He was drinking pretty heavily – ‘One way of getting out of the real world’. Gambling offered another escape. Richie now recognises it as part of his coping mechanism at the time. ‘I was away from the real world. I was in some fantasy world of gambling.’ Eventually reality intruded: after embezzling from his workplace, Richie was sentenced to a lengthy term in jail.
Out of prison, he seemed to hit the ground running. His marriage had survived his jail time, and he found a job without difficulty. But several years later he began to be afflicted by a series of health problems – eventually diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder and other related conditions. These have worsened over time and he’s now significantly disabled and unable to work.
Richie disclosed the abuse for the first time in the late 2000s, to his wife and his father. ‘They were the only two people that knew till recent times.’ It turned out his father had also been sexually molested, by a teacher at his Catholic school. ‘He’d been through the same thing – he could relate to what I was going through.’
Since then Richie has reported to police and also engaged a solicitor to help him make a complaint to the school. The school is now meeting the cost of his ongoing psychiatric support but beyond that he is not looking for compensation. He hopes that together with his visit to the Royal Commission, these actions will give him some closure.
‘All I’m trying to do I suppose is get some finality’, he said.
Richie would like to see the work of the Commission result in changes to the way children are educated about appropriate behaviour. ‘I think the biggest improvement I could see is actually education of young kids. Explaining to young kids that it’s not right to be smacked. It’s not right to be touched on the bum, it’s not right for some adult to be there staring at you naked, all that sort of stuff.’
Parents also need to be educated, he said, so they can help their children feel comfortable about reporting behaviour that concerns them. And there needs to be someone independent within the school, a counsellor or a psychologist, that children can report to. ‘You just don’t feel comfortable reporting to a teacher.’
He also believes that the Catholic Church needs to allow priests to marry. It would solve a lot of problems, he said.
‘But that’s probably never going to happen.’