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Rupert's story

‘Previously, I hadn’t pursued any sort of legal action or even approached the school or anything like that because I had - it’s a little cliched, but I had - essentially blocked out the memories, and it wasn’t until my 20s that I started sort of having nightmares and realising, putting it together about what I had experienced. And part of that is that I haven’t yet been able to recall the teacher’s name. But I know his face, I know his position at the school. He was the religious education teacher at the time.’

At his Sydney Uniting Church school, Rupert often found himself in trouble for ‘running around and doing silly things’. As an alternative to detention, he’d be punished by being given tasks to do like photocopying, running errands or carrying teachers’ books. These things he did as a seven-year-old in the early 1980s, when he was told to by the religious education teacher, but within a short period of time the teacher began to sexually abuse him.

‘It started out just helping general things in his office’, Rupert told the Commissioner. ‘It happened many times and then it progressed where he would tell me to take my clothes off. And the whole time - I was just a kid - I was scared of getting in trouble. He would use the standard sort of threats that would work for kids like me, you know: “I’ll tell your parents. You’ll be in trouble. You’ll be expelled. You’re letting down your family”. Basically fear of guilt and fear of authority.

‘It was a slow progression over many times being sent to his office, but it progressed to touching, asking me to touch him and vice versa, and eventually, probably after five or six times of being sent to his office like this, it led to him raping me.

‘I was scared and upset and I didn’t know how to understand it, let alone who to approach about it. I did sort of approach my parents about it, not about what had happened but in saying that I was in pain and that I was bleeding when I go to the toilet, and eventually I went to the GP and the GP seemed to pass it off as one of those things that happen. It was causing [an anal] fissure.

‘You have to understand that it’s taken me a long time to put all the memories together and to actually have a complete time line to it, and that why I didn’t seek more help at the time, but honestly I was just afraid to talk to my parents and to the school. There was a constant thing with that school that you’re not good enough, you’re not wealthy enough. And if you dob or complain that’s almost worse than being in the wrong.

‘I kind of shut down to it and would try to sort of be as invisible as I could at the school to not be singled out and not be chosen. But the assaults continued – the best I’ve been able to work it out – for a good part of my year in second grade and until he left the school, which I think was when I would have been in the first or second term of Third Grade. So it was multiple assaults over quite a long period, a number of months, to the point where I wouldn’t make a fuss or cry or anything. It was just normal and I’d just switch off to it. Looking at family photos there’s a very clear point where I just stop, my facial expressions have just stopped. They’ve just changed, I’ve just switched off.’

As he blocked out memories of the abuse through his teenage years, Rupert experienced depression and suicidal ideation. He saw a counsellor and was prescribed anti-depressant medication but didn’t become conscious of the causal factors, despite always having a sense that he ‘knew something was wrong’.

In his 20s and 30s Rupert said he ‘tried to clear this up and work out what had gone on’ with the teacher. He realised the nightmares he’d been having for a long time were scenes of the abuse playing out in his sleep. He began to see a psychologist who continued to support him as he dealt with remembering details of the abuse.

Media reports about the conviction of several teachers from the school on child sex offences had been the catalyst for Rupert to come forward to the Royal Commission. When he looked back he had some sense of knowing other boys had probably been abused, and contemporary publicity surrounding their accounts made him feel less isolated. He hadn’t reported the teacher to New South Wales Police nor had he yet remembered or researched the teacher’s name, because he was afraid he might ‘try and find him’.

In addition to telling his psychologist, Rupert disclosed the abuse to his wife, who was very supportive and to his parents who were ‘a different generation so it’s hard for them to know what to say’. They too had been ‘supportive in the best way they can’ and ‘good about it’.

‘I think the ball was dropped’, Rupert said. ‘My parents dropped the ball; the GP dropped the ball. There were many things that people should have noticed. That sort of stuff can’t happen to a child and not have some changes happen, including having bleeding in my bum. I’m sure in hindsight it all makes sense but at the time, at least to me as a child, I didn’t get asked anything much about it.’

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