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Rocco's story

‘Growing up in an immigrant background, you’re vulnerable. You’re always vulnerable ... and you know that situation, the family life is deteriorating within your own situation. And then there’s a teacher that’s very likeable, and becomes a father figure – then you expose yourself, become even more vulnerable. And then when your vulnerability is shattered, at that level, then it’s just a process of always trying to readjust. You’re always readjusting with an immigrant context.’

Both Rocco’s parents migrated to Australia before he was born, from the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, and had quite different cultural values. There were lots of arguments in the family home. ‘Culturally it was very, very difficult ... We were all divided within three cultures, so trying to adapt.’ His dad was physically and verbally abusive towards him, and ‘I didn’t really have much of a father figure’.

By the early 1970s, when Rocco was in primary school, the family were living in the suburbs of Canberra, and he attended a local Catholic school. His Year 4 teacher, Mr Jacobs, was ‘charming’ and entertaining, and well-liked by the students.

Jacobs often grabbed the boys’ genitals, and ‘used to make comments about my bottom all the time ... We thought he was joking’. This abuse would happen in front of the class, ‘and all the kids just laughed’.

‘He would grab one boy by the testicles, and they would be on the floor. And then all the kids would jump, we’d all jump, and then there’d be a pile of kids on top of Mr Jacobs ... He would be snatching at everyone’s testicles. There’d be a mountain of kids ... That’s how popular he was. We loved the guy.’

Soon, Jacobs started living very close to Rocco’s family home. Rocco and his friend Eddy would visit him. One time when Rocco was about 12, Jacobs began fondling his genitals while they watched television, and did this to Eddy as well.

The boys ‘laughed it away’, and continued to visit Jacobs. ‘I felt very uncomfortable, but still, I tried to put it in the back of my mind. Because he was a very likeable person, and he was almost becoming like a father figure to me.’

They also slept over on some occasions. Eddy would sleep in the same bed as Jacobs, but Rocco would be in a different room. He felt uneasy about being there, though it was also ‘like being in a family. It felt kind of fun’.

One time, Jacobs jumped into bed with Rocco, accused him of masturbating, and tried to grope him. After this, Rocco decided not to go back to the house. He encouraged Eddy to stop going there too, but his friend continued to visit.

Finally, Eddy told his mum that Jacobs had tried to kiss him, and she went to the school. The principal spoke to Rocco about what had gone on between them all, and Jacobs was dismissed.

‘I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about what had happened.’

Rocco doesn’t think police were called, as he was never interviewed by them. His mum knew about the incidents, but ‘to tell you the truth, I don’t think my father really understood ... I think many people in those days didn’t really understand the severity of it, I think we were all quite ignorant’.

The abuse was never discussed at school or in his home again, and so Rocco was left to deal with it on his own. ‘I was an absolute failure at school. I suffered from really deep depression.’ His grades began to deteriorate, he became withdrawn, was bullied by other boys, and no longer liked school.

‘When I was in Year 10, and Year 11, something happened to me psychologically. I don’t know what it was. I ended up losing complete interest in everything. And so I always used run riot at school, always two hours late, and I used to get strapped all the time ... It was a terrifying experience for me. I couldn’t get out of bed, I was exhausted. My body was like lead.’

After failing his final exams, he went travelling. Later on Rocco completed some tertiary study, and lived overseas for a while. He feels he has never been able to settle in jobs, places, or relationships. ‘I get along with the female sex, I have more confidence in the female sex. With males I’ve had a terrible relationship ... I’m always suspicious.’

In his 20s he spoke to his girlfriend and siblings about the abuse, and also mentioned it briefly to a counsellor. ‘I thought what happened to me when I was 12-13 was something in the past, and I’d moved on.’

Recently police came to Rocco’s parents’ house, as they were investigating Jacobs and wanted to speak with him. One of his siblings was there when police arrived, and heard details of the abuse. Rocco is concerned the police did not make contact with him privately, and regards their indiscretion as an invasion of his privacy.

Initially he felt ‘frozen’ after this contact, but then ‘the anger started to bubble up. There and then I realised how deeply affected I was’. He is aware that Jacobs has been charged with some child sexual assault offences, but does not know other details. It had never occurred to Rocco to apply for compensation, but he now has information about seeking legal advice. ‘I’m very disappointed with the school, and quite angry.’

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