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Sean's story

In the 1990s, Sean was sexually abused by a teacher at his Anglican boarding school in Sydney. For many years he had little memory of the abuse. ‘I spent 10 years trying to suppress it, because I didn’t want to admit it happened. I can’t remember all the details, only that it was quite rough.’

Sean came to the boarding school in his early teens as an academic and sporting high achiever. He missed his home and family though, and was often upset. He told the Commissioner that his teacher, Mr Olsen, took him aside after his first class and was kind and caring. Several other teachers spoke to Sean’s parents and suggested that Mr Olsen take Sean under his wing and look after him.

‘They said, “He’s got a rapport with Sean. He lives on the campus. He’s got a wife and Sean’s welcome in his house”. Mum and Dad thought it was a nice gesture.’

Sean said the abuse started nearly straight away. ‘There was me and another boy. I don’t remember all of it, but I know it wasn’t pleasant. It was worse, much rougher, for the other boy.’

Sean’s behaviour at the school and with his parents changed overnight. He became violent and aggressive, and rang his parents crying so many times that he was banned from using the telephone.

‘I went from a normal child to a little monster. I was always fighting. I was unmanageable.’

Sean remembered the school nurse trying to help him, but said no one ever asked him the right questions. After one term, Sean’s parents took him out of the school and enrolled him at another one near their home. His behaviour worsened, however, and he started drinking heavily. Within two years, he was prescribed antidepressants, and was taken by his parents to numerous counsellors. Sean said he couldn’t disclose the abuse because at first he was so ashamed, and in a short time he’d repressed it so much that he was unable to admit it.

From the age of 18, Sean continued to drink and get into fights, moving house many times, unable to hold down a job. Relationships were volatile and upsetting. ‘Certain triggers would come up and I’d overreact. I didn’t know why I was doing it. It was the same sort of behaviour that I’d had as a child. What I learned as a child I carried through as an adult.’

When Sean gave up alcohol in the late 2000s, memories of the abuse starting coming back, and he saw how it had affected all aspects of his life. Around this time, he contacted the principal of the school to ask if Olsen still taught there. When told that he did, Sean told the principal about the abuse. A short time later Sean was contacted by police officers and asked if he wished to make a statement. He didn’t.

‘That call came as a shock. I just wanted the principal to know what Olsen had done, and to say he shouldn’t be teaching there.’

Sean said he didn’t want to take the matter further, because he knew it would be difficult to prove the matter in court. He was also concerned that the school had significant power and resources behind it, and he didn’t. Memories of the abuse also still felt too new to him to be discussed in public.

He said he was slowly coming to terms with acknowledging the abuse. ‘I’m becoming more of a whole human, because I hated myself. I’ve hated that 12-, 13-year-old boy with a passion this whole time. I hated him because I felt he should have had more street smarts. Now I see that kid did the best he could. I’ve realised that he fought, kicked, screamed and did things to get out of that situation. It’s only recently I’ve been able to look at it with a different view.’

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