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Searle's story

Searle was an only child living with his parents in Victoria when his father left the family. ‘He could have probably tried to stay in touch better afterwards, but it was the 70s and he ended up moving overseas and working’.

During his childhood, Searle attended several different state schools. In the 1980s, his mother started achieving success in her career and decided to send him to a private boarding school. ‘She had the income to do it and I think pretty much she decided to sort of free herself from motherhood to a certain degree by sending me there.’

Searle was 12 years old when he arrived at the elite boarding school and experienced the ‘culture shock’ of an environment he wasn’t prepared for.

‘I was sort of thrown in with this company of kids … A lot were from really well-off, well-respected families and powerful families, and they had the certain attitude that went with that … I had absolutely no knowledge of what these people were like, and I was suddenly thrown in there with them … It was intimidating.’

Upon arriving, Searle noted a strong hierarchical culture at the school where entrenched bullying and hypocrisy were de rigueur. ‘While it seemed that a lot of the bullies had free rein, we would be receiving really harsh penalties if our socks fell down …’ One particular bully was Martin Lee, who was in the grade above Searle and was ‘known for his advanced ability in karate’. Searle avoided Lee because of his reputation for ‘using martial arts to beat other students up’.

One afternoon after classes during his second semester, Searle was walking out of the boarding house when he was grabbed from behind by two boys, who put him in a ‘sleeper hold’ and forced him into the change rooms. When they arrived, Searle found it filled with numerous boys as well as Lee ‘standing beside the person I had taken to be my best friend, Malcolm Lucas, also Year 8, with his penis exposed, semi erect’.

Searle struggled and screamed but was overpowered and forced to perform oral sex on Lucas. ‘After this huge barrage of effort to force me into giving my friend oral sex, I must have blacked out to a certain degree after this, as I really honestly do not know whether his penis entered my mouth. All I remember next is a huge cheer, where the room then immediately emptied and I was left there lying on the floor, half stripped as well.’

As soon as he could collect himself, Searle went to his housemaster, Mr Avery, to disclose what had happened, after which he had to go into the dining hall to collect his dinner and suffer the humiliation of students openly laughing at him.

Not long afterwards, Avery called an emergency assembly for the entire boarding house where he recounted what Searle had told him, and then made Searle stand in front of the room and name his attackers. Avery called the boys responsible disgusting, ‘but then that was it. None of the attackers were punished in any way. I never saw them receive detentions or anything harsher. Also my mother was never notified and to the best of my knowledge none of their parents were either. They resumed their school life as if nothing had happened’.

By the following day, rumours of the incident had circulated around the entire middle school. ‘Consequently, for my remaining three and a half years at the school, I was referred to as the cocksucker by anyone who wanted to upset me, which happened numerous times on a daily basis from then on.’

Not only was Searle ridiculed and humiliated by his fellow peers, but his mathematics teacher, Mr Kerrigan, also enjoyed bullying him. ‘[He] alluded to this event with a smile on several occasions in class … It was constant, it was ongoing. I mean I’m not saying that the sexual abuse wasn’t important, because I’ve never know such intensity before. But having the follow up so regularly, just the constant verbal bullying and stuff that just absolutely erodes so many things inside you that you just don’t know where to begin.’

Searle’s confidence, along with his academic performance, plummeted. He became nervous and fearful, even sleeping with a pocket-knife lest he be set upon again. ‘I think part of me had to shut down to survive there, because I didn’t have any survival plan. I just literally did what I had to do every day and got through it most of the time. But I was always picked on.’

When he was 16, Searle’s mother experienced financial difficulties and removed him from the school, placing him in a public school where he completed his education. He began experiencing insomnia and was prescribed sleeping tablets at the same time as his mother was buying alcohol for him.

‘At the time when I was drinking in Year 11, I was also getting sleeping tablets from the doctor. I didn’t even know that mixing them was dangerous … I’ve hardly ever got scripts for sleeping tablets since then but I still find it really hard to sleep now.’ Around this time, Searle also experienced depression and told his grandmother about the incident, but she ‘reacted to it really badly and basically said that I was just being silly for talking about it and that there’s no way it was as bad as what I made out’.

After leaving school, Searle lived a relatively secluded life, unable to trust or relate to other people. He met his first wife in the mid-1990s but the marriage did not last. A year after their divorce, Searle met his second wife and they have enjoyed a successful relationship ever since. He disclosed the incident to his wife, who has been supportive, as well as to some people he previously considered friends. ‘Some of them haven’t really reacted appropriately either. I think there’s a perception amongst people that so-called initiations take place and that I’m just blowing it out of proportion, when it wasn’t an initiation, it was just bullying. I had already been there for half a year or something, there was no initiation to be had.’

Searle no longer has any contact with his mother but recently reconnected with his father. He has received counselling in the past but cannot afford access to regular good support. ‘I think it’s actually contributed to physical problems that I have as well. I’m very limited in what I can do these days. Even though I look okay it’s sort of like one of those hidden illnesses … I think it’s a sort of nervous thing actually that stems from it really.’

When regarding the incident of abuse, Searle does not hold his attackers responsible, because ‘as 12, 13, and 14 year olds it is unlikely that they understood the depth of the depravity that they unleashed on this day’. Searle does, however, believe the school’s response was ‘completely wrong and unforgiveable’ and they should be held to account. He believes the school was remiss in its duty by not expelling the offenders, providing counselling to the victim, notifying the police, notifying the education department, and not providing ongoing support or complete confidentiality.

‘If masters or teachers haven’t followed this protocol, and have hushed it up or even inflamed it in some way, they should be subject to criminal prosecution personally, as well as the school.’

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