Some details of the sexual abuse Roman suffered while a student at a prestigious Brisbane non-government school escape him now. ‘I did bury it deep for so long’, he told the Commissioner.
Roman was a boarder for his high school years, beginning in the mid-1980s. His parents sent him there from the small regional town in Queensland where they lived, in the hope he’d receive the best possible education. ‘That’s what they wanted to achieve.’
Roman was abused by two teachers; Tony Gregory, his housemaster, and William Manson, the school counsellor.
Roman was one of Manson’s many victims, at that school and others. During counselling sessions Manson hypnotised him and made him practise relaxation techniques, which involved Roman undoing his trousers and Manson fondling his penis. These sessions took place until Roman was in Year 11 or 12, and old enough to refuse to go any more.
Manson was eventually charged for sex offences against children, and killed himself. ‘My exact thoughts were, it couldn’t have happened to a better bastard’, Roman said.
Tony Gregory sexually assaulted Roman on multiple occasions in Year 9 or 10. Roman had a favourite television program, which screened after bedtime. Gregory invited Roman to watch it with him in his rooms, a special and irresistible privilege. As Roman watched TV, Gregory pulled down Roman’s pants and fondled him. ‘That happened – I couldn’t tell you how many times, but I stopped watching that show … I couldn’t wait for that year to finish and for me to be in a different dorm.’
Roman didn’t tell anyone what was happening. The culture at the school didn’t encourage it. There was an obsession with reputation and with the notion of manliness that made it almost impossible to speak out. Roman recalled suffering a serious injury at sport, and not realising the extent of the damage. But he was in significant pain, so when he turned up for training on the Monday morning he asked the coach if he could sit out while the other boys ran round the oval.
‘He said, “Well, you’ve got two choices. You can either play it out like a man, or you can go and see the school nurse”.’ Roman chose the school nurse, and later found he had several broken bones.
From the principal down, teachers were not approachable.
‘[The principal] was sort of someone to be feared, so to speak. He was such an authoritarian … You would never have felt comfortable going to talk to [him] about a personal issue. Definitely not.’
And it was the same with his peers. ‘In a boarding house – you showed one weakness, it was dog eat dog in there’, he said.
‘The last thing you wanted to do was show a weakness. And that’s how I got through, anyway – was by burying all this stuff behind me and not showing any weaknesses.’
Roman later became part of a class action against the school in relation to Manson. He received $10,000 – ‘a paltry sum, to be honest’. The legal action prompted him to disclose the abuse to his parents. ‘I remember my mother … to this day – she burst into tears.’
Hearing what had had happened was terribly hard on her, Roman said. ‘So I say to her – “It’s not your fault, Mum, you didn’t know what was going to happen there. It’s his fault and no one else’s” … It breaks your heart when she says, “We didn’t send you there for that to happen”.’
Roman has self-medicated over the years, using alcohol and drugs. He said the abuse affected his ability to learn. He still remembers having arguments with his father about his mediocre academic performance, which he just couldn’t explain. ‘There’s no way you could tell him “I’m not comfortable”, or the reasons why.’ There were subjects he loves now, like maths, that ‘back then I couldn’t get my head around’.
He has not taken any action against Gregory and hadn’t considered doing so. ‘I think the only reason why it’s never dawned on me is because I just bury it. That’s the only way I’ve dealt with it, is to bury it. Unfortunately, I bury a lot of my other emotions as well – that’s what it’s sculpted me into, that’s how I deal with problems. If it’s psychological or emotional it’s going in the backroom, mate.’
He believes this is the main impact of the abuse – his inability to deal with emotion. One consequence of that has been the recent breakdown of his marriage. ‘One of the things my wife said to me is that she can’t talk to me … I sort of run away from that stuff.’
He is not ready to seek support from a counsellor or psychologist. ‘I just don’t want to sit down with anyone like that … I’m just not comfortable with it. And that has stuck with me ever since I walked out of those gates for the last time.’
Roman believes education is key to preventing abuse in future. Children need to know more about abuse and the forms it can take. As well, there needs to be someone outside the school they can report it to.
‘But these bastards have got a good way of making you feel shame. They really do. And when you’re ashamed of something, you don’t want to tell anyone.’