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Robbie's story

Now in his 50s, Robbie is still dealing with the impacts of several episodes of sexual abuse in his childhood.

‘My life is in complete ruin, as I cannot work or have meaningful relationships with people. I have been seeing a psychiatrist for over 20 years. But I cannot seem to get in control of my life. I am on anti-anxiety medication and live in the bush … I have no family and friends.’

The incidents occurred at the non-denominational private school in Melbourne Robbie attended between the ages of about 10 and 12. He’d attended several different schools by then, moving from place to place to fit in with his mum’s work. His parents had separated when he was a baby, and he never knew his father.

‘I’ve had a few issues with not having a father but it’s never really worried me.’

The man who abused Robbie was Keith Barrow, the teacher in charge of the school’s high school students. ‘He was kind of the principal, or the leader, form teacher, call it what you may but he was the main man’, Robbie told the Commissioner. Barrow had a property in the country, and would take students to stay there at weekends or in school holidays.

The first time Robbie went it was as part of a group. Robbie was 11. The kids all bunked down on the floor in sleeping bags, and Barrow lay down next to Robbie.

‘I remember [Barrow] whispering to me in a loving sort of way, whispering softly to me, but I can’t remember exactly what he was saying … I remember being the centre of his attention.’

After a while Barrow asked Robbie to get in his sleeping bag with him. It was a double sleeping bag, and Robbie was cold, so he did. Barrow then suggested Robbie take his pyjama pants off. Robbie complied, and Barrow then fondled and masturbated him.

Robbie didn’t tell anyone about this episode. But when it happened again, he told his mother. This second time, he’d been away with Barrow on his own. Barrow had invited him to sleep in his bed and, as before, had masturbated him.

Robbie’s mother had recently begun a new relationship, ‘so she may have been a bit distracted’, he said.

‘I did tell her at the time, when it happened, and she just said “Well, are you bruised? Are you bleeding?” – to which I said no’.

Robbie didn’t really want his mother to take any action in response to his disclosure. He didn’t want to get Barrow into any trouble. ‘When I told her I was sort of confused because I liked his attention … He was like a father figure to me and I didn’t think what he had done was wrong’, he said in a written statement.

‘I remember feeling that I was someone special to [him], sort of like his girlfriend. At the same time I felt sort of lost. I felt very sad and confused by his attention. I never felt at the time that what Barrow was doing to me by touching me in that way was wrong … I felt that we both needed the comfort from each other.’

He later came to realise that Barrow had been very adept in the way he abused him. No anal penetration, no violence. ‘He knew how to make people give him what he wanted but without hurting any feelings or hurting anyone physically or emotionally at the time … His whole operation was designed to keep everyone close and think that he’s doing a wonderful job. And that included kids, adults, parents, whoever.’

Robbie left the school after a couple of years. He and his mother became very committed to the Church her new husband belonged to. Robbie married young and had children but the relationship didn’t last and his wife and the children moved interstate.

‘I was at my wits’ end by that stage’, Robbie said. It was at that point that he left the Church and sought therapy from a psychiatrist. He still sees that psychiatrist – ‘I’ve found him very helpful’ – and also takes medication for anxiety and depression.

In the early 1990s, Robbie learned through stories published in the media that Barrow had abused other students at the school. In the late 1990s, he reported the abuse by Barrow to police. ‘I have tried to get rid of the thoughts of what happened with Barrow over the past 20 years but the thought won’t go away. The anger won’t go away. I believe by reporting these things I may then be able to move on with my life’, he wrote in his statement.

At the same time, he contacted the school.

‘I did ring … spoke to some dude. I just said “I was sexually abused in the 70s”. I don’t know who he was … He didn’t seem like he wanted to write it down, or put me on to someone else, or anything like that. It wasn’t “Please hold” …’

Barrow has died now, after serving a sentence in a New South Wales prison, although Robbie is not sure what for. The investigation of Barrow’s offence against him was closed down. He has recently made contact with another of Barrow’s victims, abused at the school at about the same time, and they plan to bring a civil case together.

‘I’m thinking of the tree analogy’, Robbie said, as he reflected on his life. ‘You cut a tree off, sometimes the saplings grow and they grow over the dead stump, bark will grow over the dead stump and you just have the shape of the dead stump there but the fresh tree has grown over it … Like I’m a strong tree, everyone thinks I’m a strong tree, but there’s this dead part inside you.’

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