Rohan didn’t particularly want to work at Donovan’s Funerals, in regional New South Wales. It was the early 1980s, and Rohan was 15 years old. His father wouldn’t let him leave school until he had a job to go to, and this was the only work he could find.
It was a small family-run parlour, with only a handful of staff. The director, Shane Donovan, was also the minister at a local church.
Donovan began sexually abusing Rohan almost immediately after he started working there, continuing for the next four years. ‘It was all sexual, right through, physical and everything,’ and happened multiple times each week.
Donovan would often send the other staff out, so he could ‘do what he wanted to do. Then he’d throw a box of tissues at me and say, “Clean yourself up”. And he’d go back to doing his normal paperwork'.
Sometimes Donovan would buy Rohan ‘trinkets’, which Rohan thought of as some kind of payment for the abuse. He’d do this when his wife was around, so it looked like the gifts were tokens of appreciation for his work.
One day, Rohan threatened to tell his father about the abuse. Donovan told him he wouldn’t be believed as he was only a child, whereas Donovan was a well-respected businessman in the community.
Rohan came to accept this view, and therefore didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. After a couple of years, he attempted to leave the job, to escape what Donovan was doing to him.
However, after he had been gone two weeks, Donovan came to his house and left him a fortnight’s pay. He said Rohan’s ‘holiday’ was ending, and that he needed to return to work. Rohan’s family then pressured him to return, not understanding why he would give up what appeared to be a perfectly good position. Rohan gave in and went back to the funeral home.
‘I said to him, “Things have got to be different. Otherwise I’m really going to let people know”. And then it was turned, “What would it do to your Mum and Dad if they found out?” So again, it was the guilt.’
The sexual abuse continued until Donovan became ill and was forced to sell the business. When Rohan was ‘feeling down, then I’d try to talk about it, but it would always flash back, what he’d said. Who’s going to believe me? So I just didn’t bother’.
Rohan would like more community education about child sexual abuse, and how to speak out about it. He suggested lessons in schools, letting kids know that it is a crime and they are not to blame.
He spoke with the Royal Commission about the ongoing impacts of Donovan’s abuse. When he was young, he’d had physical health problems doctors thought was attributable to stress. He was often very angry and nothing could make him happy. Even now, he said he still had thoughts about suicide sometimes.
Blaming himself for what had happened, he shut down emotionally and withdrew from others. ‘I’d go home from work, and I’d just sit in the room ... I just kept to myself. It was hard to go home, it was hard sitting across the table from Mum and Dad, to eat dinner at night time. Knowing what I knew, and they didn’t know.’
Although his parents are now deceased, he still regrets hiding the abuse from them. He didn’t have the chance while they were alive to explain why he had changed as a person.
‘I’ve sort of spoken to them now, because they’re there somewhere. I have explained to them, and apologised.’
Rohan feels he was a ‘pretend father’ and a ‘pretend husband’, because of his inability to put his own self into relationships. If he was touched in certain ways, he would get flashbacks, and this caused difficulties for him sexually.
A couple of years ago, he was going through a very bad time, losing his job and his marriage. The memories of the abuse became increasingly present, and he told his sister what had happened.
Rohan has since disclosed to his other siblings, his ex-wife, and his children. Looking back, his siblings now remember ‘they saw a turning point. From me being the happy-go-lucky person, to being, in their words, an arsehole, never seeing good in anybody’.
He decided not to pursue any civil action, as the business is dissolved and it seems there is no legal entity to sue. Donovan died a few years ago. Rohan never reported him to police because he didn’t feel he would be believed.
Rohan attended counselling after the break-up with his wife, but didn’t really address the abuse in these sessions. At that time, he did not want to give the abuse ‘energy’.
‘I look at it, if you concentrate hard enough on something it gives it life. If I don’t think about it and don’t worry about it, I can put it in a box somewhere and leave it.’
Now, however, he thinks he may be ready to pursue counselling to speak about the abuse. ‘I don’t want to hide it anymore. I want to deal with it.’