Shannon Rhys's story

Before his parents split up, Shannon’s dad had been violent and abusive. After the separation Shannon lived with his mum and sister in the suburbs of Melbourne.

In the mid-1980s, when he was around 12 years old, Shannon’s mum sent him away to a ‘summer holiday camp’ even though he did not want to go

One of the youth leaders, Jim Walters, was very friendly towards Shannon and his mum – ‘he used to groom us, and be all nice to us, and seemed to pick on the boys that had no dads’.

Over the two weeks of the camp Shannon was sexually and physically abused by Walters on numerous occasions. This included being raped and forced to perform oral sex, with Walters hitting him on the back or head while abusing him.

The abuse continued for approximately five years after this camp, as Walters also helped out on camps run by Shannon’s Catholic school, and was involved with the Catholic youth group he attended.

Walters threatened Shannon with his life if he told anyone about the abuse. Shannon didn’t think anyone would believe him because of his behaviour so he did not tell anyone about it at the time. He has not reported Walters to the police, however he believes Walters was charged and convicted of child sex offences in the 1990s.

Soon after the camp, Shannon began training to be an altar boy at the local Catholic church. He witnessed an altar boy performing oral sex on one of the priests in the changing room of the church. When the priest noticed Shannon had seen them, he ordered the boy out of the room, then raped Shannon ‘and hit me in the back of the head while he was doing this’.

On other occasions the priest would offer Shannon some of the church wine, then rape Shannon or force him to perform oral sex. Shannon does not remember this priest’s name, as there were quite a number of priests moving through the parish at the time.

One day Shannon had a fight with his mum and sister and went to confession. Afterwards he did not want to go home so the priest invited him into the ‘parish house’ and gave him a cup of tea. ‘Then all I remember is waking up in the bedroom.’

Shannon began drinking and smoking marijuana in his early teens, and left school then too. ‘I had a lot of behavioural problems ... My mum was going to put me ward of the state ... because she couldn’t handle me. And nobody knew why, ‘cause of this.’ He ran away from home as he didn’t want to be made a state ward.

He has been suicidal in the past, has trust issues, and doesn’t have much of a relationship with his family anymore.

‘So I pretty much self-counselled myself over the last 30 years. I’ve been to a few professionals. Every time you talk about it, it just brings it back up, so there’s no point going to see counsellors because it just reminds you of it.’

Telling his sister about the sexual abuse he experienced has helped her understand him. Although Shannon has a trade he finds it difficult to work for other people so it has been hard to find consistent employment. He married and had children, but his marriage ended a few years ago.

Shannon recently returned to the parish to report the sexual abuse. When he walked past the room where some of the abuse had occurred he became upset, and the administration assistant he was dealing with noticed his distress and helped him move away from the area.

He spoke with the current parish priest, who was kind and offered counselling. The priest was able to provide him with a list of clergy who were at the church during the period he was an altar boy, so that he could try to identify the priest who had abused him.

Shannon has not taken any civil action in regards to compensation or reported the abuse to police. ‘I don’t want to go through litigation – I don’t think anyone should’, but would consider accessing a redress scheme if available.

‘Thirty-one years I have held on to this cross, ‘cause what those evil people did, my life has been fucked up by those evil people.’

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