Rob and his mother Paula both attended private sessions to talk about the abuse that Rob experienced at an independent high school in the mid-1980s.
Paula described her son as a ‘sensitive’ boy who was deeply affected when she and her husband broke up. Rob described himself as ‘a kid with problems. I was vulnerable. Physically I was a late starter, hitting puberty. And looking back I think that vulnerability showed’.
At age 12, Rob approached the school counsellor, Mr Tranter, to get help in dealing with his troubled home life. When Paula found out she felt reassured and confident that ‘he was in good hands’. It never entered her head that Mr Tranter was grooming her son for sexual abuse.
Rob was equally in the dark about Mr Tranter’s intentions, and even when the abuse started he was too young to understand what it meant.
‘Cognitively as a child I was underdeveloped. All I knew is that I didn’t want to go there, I didn’t like it, like I didn’t like brussels sprouts. You know, you don’t like certain things, you can’t go into cognitively why, because I didn’t have the ability to know that what he was doing to me was wrong.’
Sometime later, Rob approached the housemaster and told him he didn’t want to attend the sessions with Mr Tranter anymore. Paula recounted what happened next:
‘The teacher insisted that Rob go to see Mr Tranter, and Rob was crying and said, “I don’t want to go”. And you would really think that that teacher would have – that would be a red flag, whether he thought Tranter was wonderful or not.’
Rob was forced to keep seeing the counsellor and so the abuse continued throughout his teenage years. As a consequence his school marks dropped, he lost the ability to concentrate and started drinking alcohol. When his mother went on a trip overseas he moved into the school as a boarder but the bullying and teasing from the other kids was such a strain he escaped and went to live with his brother. Eventually Paula agreed to let him move schools and Rob didn’t have to see Mr Tranter again.
Unfortunately, the consequences of the abuse were not so easy to escape. Rob explained how his experiences affected his brain development.
‘In times of stress or trauma as a child, cortisol from the kidneys is released and it comes up and knocks out the dendrites, which make the connections. So consequently – it’s called “organic brain damage”.’
He’s also suffered from night terrors, chronic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. As a young man he dealt with these problems by abusing drugs. He started with marijuana then moved onto harder drugs, eventually developing a heroin addiction.
‘On one occasion I OD’d from heroin three days in a row … I don’t know how I managed to stay alive. It’s a miracle I’m here today. I think if it wasn’t for my Mum I’d be dead.’
‘One thing I have always done is, I never closed the door … They say, treating or dealing with people with drugs, tough love is what they need. I really disagree with that. Tough love from a point of view – telling them to go away and sort themselves out or whatever. A lot of the time I was told that’s how you deal with it. And I never did that. I always made sure I knew where they were and they knew that I knew. I think for that reason, Rob is still alive. Definitely.’
Paula was the first person Rob talked to about the abuse. It happened when he was in his late 20s. Up to that point, despite all the drug issues, it had never occurred to Paula that her son might have been sexually abused.
Then one day she saw a news report which revealed that Mr Tranter had abused numerous children. Things suddenly started to make sense. She said, ‘It was sort of one and one is two’. Immediately she rang Rob and asked him about it.
Rob has a vivid memory of the phone call:
‘I think mothers are quite intuitive in nature. She said to me, “Rob, there’s this thing in the paper about Mr Tranter and I’ve got this funny feeling that you might know about it”. And I said to her, well actually yes. And that was the beginning of the unravelling of a mass amount of shame and guilt. It was like someone showing me a horror film and suddenly realising that that person in the horror film being abused was me.’
Sometime later Rob entered into a mediation process with the school. As part of that process he had to get assessed by a psychiatrist that the school had appointed.
‘At that time I was noticeably very depressed and in amongst a heroin addiction, and that process where I was taken into a room with the psychiatrist, who sat me down and pressed record on the tape recorder, and basically ripped right through me very harshly and thoughtlessly with no regard to my mental stability … from that experience I almost went home and killed myself. I make no exaggerations in saying that.’
In the end Rob was told that his case was weak because the abuse occurred more than five years ago. He was awarded a little less than $50,000 compensation, half of which vanished in lawyer’s fees. Rob said he found the whole process traumatic and felt that it compounded his shame.
‘I wanted to crawl under the table and hide. These days I would want to turn the table upside down because of the work I’ve done in understanding and having the shame lift.’
Rob has been receiving intensive treatment for the past few years. He’s gained a lot more control over his life and now feels that he has ‘a sense of hope’.
Paula shares that hope. ‘I tell everybody what I’m doing, and Rob has been too. I’m very pleased Rob has because it shows he’s gotten rid of the shame. He doesn’t feel shameful about it, which is a big thing.’