‘I have read dozens of stories journalists have presented about victims and their adverse experiences of going through formal naming and shaming plus legal processes to find justice and closure. In my experience I sacrificed some justice to get closure and hopefully a feeling that my abuse would not be repeated again and again and again on other poor children.’
In the early 1970s Russell was groomed by Tony Austen, his Year 6 teacher at a government school in regional Victoria. Austen also coached sport teams in the town, and Russell encountered him through these activities, too.
When he was bullied by his peers in high school, Russell turned to Austen for advice and support, and the teacher would visit him at home. ‘He would lay his hand above the doona where my crotch was which I at first thought was accidental. I would crouch up to hide any erection. One night his hand went below the doona and he masturbated me, telling me one day it would be a girl doing this.’
Russell did not tell anyone about this abuse. ‘The early 1980s was pretty homophobic. I really had no idea who I could speak to about this ... If this had got out, I would have been bullied even more severely.’
Feeling ‘partly responsible’ for what Austen had done, he ‘equated having sexual feelings as a form of weakness’ and ‘avoided sexual encounters’. ‘It ruined teenage and early adult sexuality, made me think I was possibly gay, and I bottled it up for 15 years or so until I told a friend.’
In his late teens Russell was diagnosed with major depression. ‘It should be noted that my sexual abuse is probably a very significant, but one of several factors behind me getting this illness.’
When he was in his early 20s Russell was in a relationship with a woman and ‘ten years of suppression finally unwound …
‘I would get flashbacks of the abuse when having sex. The last straw was when – innocently – I read an article in a men's magazine about men that had been violently sexually abused as children by men, and how they dealt with it. Their stories, of having no one to turn to; fears of being labelled gay or weak; mental suppression of the facts; having trouble forming relationships; and developing psychiatric disorders brought on a realisation – this was me. I told my girlfriend. She said I should report it to the police, as this man Austen was a teacher.’
The treatment Russell received from police was extremely poor.
‘This was not a polite interview but an adversarial interrogation by a female officer. Due to lack of evidence the police said they would keep my file in case someone else complained as well. I was shaken by the experience. I had enough nous to work out that the grilling was done to see if I was lying or not.
‘What would have helped, would have been at least one person there after the interview acknowledging my efforts for coming in ...
‘I was dumbfounded by the last blunt question of the interview – “Why did you come in and report this? Did it mess up your sexuality or something?” For a start it was a criminal act, and secondly the interviewer already knew the answer to the question. In a world where 'boys don't cry' she just wanted to see a cringing affirmation of the 10 years of pain I had just gone through. That was humiliating.’
A few years later Russell disclosed the abuse to a friend, who said ‘he now knew why I acted so strangely with girls as a teenager’. This friend contacted Austen and arranged for Russell to meet with him.
The first thing Russell asked was if Austen had offended against anyone else. ‘He replied “No”. He said he had been abused as a child.’ Austen had teenage kids of his own, and Russell worried what the implications would be for the family if the matter was dragged through the courts, or if Austen lost his job.
‘I concocted a plan to deal with him, which did not involve the penal system. The plan was to make an agreement to send Austen to a psychiatrist to try to rehabilitate him. My motivation to minimise the chances of him ever offending again and ruining someone else's childhood was absolute.’
Russell sought out a psychiatrist who was willing to treat Austen, and who agreed that if he considered the treatment had not worked, he would report Austen to police. ‘With the perpetrator's permission, the forensic psychiatrist I found who was willing to take on this case gave me progress reports of how the consultations he had with the perpetrator were going.’
During this period police contacted Russell ‘out of the blue’, asking if he wished prosecute Austen. ‘I told the police that I had sent him to rehabilitation and would not prosecute if he successfully completed it.’
He believes that this call was ‘probably because other boys had reported Austen’ for earlier offences by this stage, but the police did not advise him as such. ‘If the police had’ve told me what was going on, then this rehabilitation pact we’d made would have probably been broken open right there.’
After 18 months or so the psychiatrist ended Austen’s treatment, telling Russell he thought ‘he presented a very low risk to society in terms of the risk of him abusing children in the future’.
Russell was relieved at this outcome. ‘At last, I felt some closure to this whole episode, although the time and effort I had to put in to bring this about seemed grossly unfair. Offenders don't thank you if you give them a break.’
He later learned that Austen had been convicted for the earlier offences. ‘There is a horrible equation in child sex offence cases – a number of young lives need to be ruined before the courts can convict someone.’
After discovering this, Russell made another statement and police were prepared to prosecute, however his depression was so severe at this point that he could not continue with it.
He has never sought compensation, fearing ‘the ordeal’ this process may entail. ‘Some modest form of compensation without having to go into lengthy conflict would be appreciated, but I will not ruin my fragile health chasing it, or to secure a prosecution.’