Rowen Lee's story

At Rowen’s Catholic primary school in regional Queensland, all the children would regularly be taken to mass. In the early 1990s, when he was five years old, one of the priests molested him at the church. He told his mother, and she removed him from the school, but he does not know if any other action was taken.

By his mid-teens Rowen had moved interstate with his family. He started running away from home, living on the streets and committing crime. One time he was arrested for theft and had to appear in court.

Bail was granted on the condition that he went to live with a man called Brian McCarthy. He cannot remember the names of the police who first arrested him, or who exactly made his bail arrangements.

Rowen did not know McCarthy, and can only assume that he was someone who was known by the police.

‘My mum doesn’t know him, I don’t know him, I don’t know how it happened ... I don’t know, this is what’s plagued me for years. I don’t understand it at all.’

McCarthy was in his 50s and lived in a caravan on a rural property, quite isolated from the other residents. At first things seemed alright. McCarthy groomed Rowen by supplying him with drugs and alcohol, and ‘buying me clothes and everything, saying oh, you look good’.

After about a week, McCarthy began sexually abusing Rowen. ‘One day, he’s given me a pill, to help me relax he reckons. And then he started making advances on me ... He basically tricked me into having a sexual relationship with him.’

These living arrangements continued for a short time, as did the sexual activity. ‘After a week or so of it, it was just like it didn’t feel right for me ... I didn’t feel comfortable with it. And so I tried to stop him from making the advances ... And then he threatened me, he’d go, if you don’t do what I am asking you, you’re going to go to jail. And that scared the shit out of me.’

McCarthy would lock him in the caravan when he went out. At night, ‘I couldn’t sleep. There was only one bed. If I slept with my arse facing the wall, he’d start playing with the front of me’. If he turned around, McCarthy would touch his backside.

When McCarthy became ill, he made Rowen drive him to hospital. On the way there they were stopped by police, who asked Rowen what he was doing. They let him continue, despite being underage and unlicensed. This added to Rowen’s suspicion that McCarthy had some kind of special relationship with the police.

He decided he had to get away from McCarthy, so he climbed through a window with some possessions and hitchhiked out of town. Although he had a caseworker because of his contact with the criminal justice system, he did not disclose the abuse to them. Nor did he tell his mother, and they have since lost contact. He has never reported it to the police either, because he doesn’t trust them.

Rowen has thought a lot about the abuse, and wondered if somehow he had caused it. ‘It fucked me up for years. Because I had a sexuality crisis. Like I’m not attracted to men ... [but] I was molested as a child, so it’s like hang on, if it happened then, and now it’s happening now, is there something? And why?’

He has considered the impacts of the abuse, too.

‘Loss of myself ... I’m just still lost sometimes. I’m 30 years old, and I’m just figuring out who I am now. And to deal with it all, I went down the path of using drugs, and then that didn’t help anything in the long term. It created a whole heap of jail time for me, and I got mental health issues.’

When Rowen was in his late teens he arranged to meet McCarthy, intending to kill him, but his conscience got the better of him. The man attempted to initiate sex, and Rowen left.

When in prison one time Rowen got talking to his cellmate about their backgrounds, and this man revealed that he had also been sexually abused by McCarthy when he was younger. Knowing this, Rowen is now reconsidering making a statement to police, as there might be even more victims.

Rowen has not applied for any compensation, regarding either the priest or McCarthy. The only part of a compensation package that interests him is ongoing psychological counselling. He feels that he is not the person he wants to be, and that counselling would be useful in helping achieve this.

‘I’ve got to go through all the stuff and deal with it, I suppose. That’s all I want. I’m sick of coming to jail, I’m sick of using drugs to escape, you know what I mean. I just want to try and work through it, so that I can be the person I wanted to be when I was a lot younger. I never wanted to grow up and come to jail.’

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