‘You know what breaks my heart is the fact that I know how happy I was when I was little … God, I’d love to go back to being that happy little kid again.’
Riley, the eldest child in a ‘good Catholic family’, was sent to a Marist Brothers boys’ high school in Sydney in the late 1970s. He was a quiet child, softly spoken, and ‘kept to myself’. From his first day at the school, Riley was bullied and physically abused by other students.
‘Never had a friend when I started there. Never had a friend through high school. Never had a friend when I left that place. The best thing I ever did was I got out of that place and left it all behind … my mum and dad insisted I go on to Year 11 and 12 but I did everything I could to get kicked out and I got kicked out halfway through Year 11, but they never knew why.’
Riley was also routinely sexually abused by some of the other school students who lived in a local boys’ home.
‘I’d get hands on me in classrooms, shoving hands down my pants [and] do stuff … obviously the teachers had a lot of issues themselves … I would do anything I could to get kicked out of the classes.
‘They got me one lunchtime … walked into the classroom, half a dozen people come in behind me … and there’s people in there waiting for me … They [sexually] assaulted me.’
He became very anxious about his safety.
‘Every day I was scared to go to school … To this day I’m scared. I can’t do anything.’
Riley was also terrorised in the school swimming pool and deals with the consequences to this day.
‘When I started there I was a little kid. I remember I was quite scared of water. My mum … paid for me to learn to swim. I loved swimming and I loved diving … in [the] 18 years [since] … I can’t even go in the pool.’
At the time Riley didn’t tell his parents about the abuse.
‘You just kept your mouth shut there. You open your mouth things would be worse …
‘My mum died not knowing … Now Dad understands … now he looks back and he says “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know”.’
After school Riley held down a job for many years and married and had children.
‘Early on I tried pushing her away … because I always thought that I don’t want to ruin someone else’s life. I don’t want to do this to someone else … [It] all fell apart a handful of years back … but she understands now the reality of what happened.’
His ex-wife now knows that much of Riley’s behaviour was due to his years of abuse. They share the parenting of their children and have developed a good friendship.
Because of Riley’s fear for his children’s safety and his inability to form friendships or trust people generally, he spent considerable amounts of time with his children as they grew up. He still sees them every day. They have also been told about his abuse and ‘they love me for who I am’.
He has had many low periods and has often thought about suicide. Love for his children stopped him from taking his own life.
‘If I didn’t have my kids now, honestly, I would never have got help.’
Riley has only opened up about his abuse in the last three years. The first person he disclosed to was his psychologist. His psychologist has helped him gain some perspective on and control over his life.
‘It’s like I’ve lost 20 something years of my life. It’s like I’ve had this massive time-out … The early stages going into [counselling] I hated it. I hated talking about anything. But at the end of the day, I said to myself, “Well, I’ve got no choice. I want to be here, I want to see my kids. I want to have grandkids”.
‘I’m a lot stronger person than I thought I was … I got the courage up to go and get the help to start with. To make that first step … Till the day I die, I can’t stop taking my medication.’
Because of his nightmares and flashbacks Riley is ‘scared to go to bed every night’ and smokes marijuana to help him sleep. He also struggles financially on a pension and is finding the counselling expensive to maintain.
‘I won’t speak to anyone else … I don’t want to go through all this again … and once this [private session] is done today, I’m looking forward to putting it behind me.’
Riley hasn’t applied for redress from either the Brothers or the school.
‘I don’t want to see any of them … Want nothing to do with them.’
He used to feel sorry for his abusers because they’d lived in a boys’ home and because he believes they were being abused themselves. He no longer feels this way.
‘I realised [I] used to feel sorry for them … but I haven’t done that [abuse] to anybody else and I couldn’t … do that to another human being.’