‘I got teased a lot as a kid and I also happened to have my parents separating at around the age of 15, so if I look back now I was an extremely vulnerable 15, 16-year-old.’
In the late 1980s, when Shaun was a Year 10 student at an Anglican school in New South Wales, he was groomed for sexual abuse by a ‘charismatic’ and ‘fatherly’ teacher named Greg Monroe.
Shaun felt comfortable with Monroe and soon began seeing him outside of school – sometimes at social gatherings and other times in the context of an ad hoc apprenticeship scheme that Monroe organised for some of the students. As part of the scheme, students would visit Monroe’s home to help him with his business ventures.
Some months later Monroe was suddenly removed from the school. There were rumours that he’d been fired after behaving inappropriately towards a young boy on a school camp. Shaun dismissed the story as ‘scuttlebutt’ and continued to see Monroe outside of school.
At 17 Shaun graduated, sought work and was lucky enough to score his ‘dream job’. The job was located a significant distance from Shaun’s home and he was worried about being late. He mentioned these worries to Monroe and Monroe offered to put him up for the night in his flat, which was much closer to the job than Shaun’s place.
‘It was during this stayover that, whilst I was asleep, he sexually assaulted me, whilst I was in the spare bedroom. That’s something I don’t really want to go into details if I don’t need to, because it is hard. But it was non-consensual. It was enough that I punched him and ran out of the house.’
In the immediate aftermath of the abuse Shaun felt conflicted and fearful.
‘I had a fear of him, in that he created an atmosphere of “I had to do the right thing by him because he was so good to me and he was giving me opportunities and you never wanted to do anything to upset him”. Now as an adult I look back and go “Classic grooming”. He made me feel indebted to him.’
But the more Shaun thought about the abuse the more his doubts fell away until eventually they were replaced with a determination to ‘stop this guy from doing this to anyone else’. Shaun reported Monroe to police. Some days later the police phoned him up to deliver the bad news: they’d interviewed Monroe and he’d denied everything.
‘They basically said “Drop it. It’s his word against yours … You won’t get anywhere. Leave it”. That’s as much as I got out of the police. And that’s when I turned to try and go to the school. They told me it was his word against mine so I thought, “I’ll find other victims”.’
Shaun went to the school and spoke to two teachers that he trusted. They confirmed the rumours about Monroe’s inappropriate behaviour with the young boy and added that Monroe was also suspected of abusing two boys named James and Neil Rutherford.
Armed with this information, Shaun confronted the school principal, Robert O’Brien.
‘I told him that I had been sexually assaulted by Greg Monroe and I believed that the school knew a lot more about his behaviour and that there were other victims, potentially. And the response from Robert O’Brien was that he would not give me any information, he knew nothing. And to be honest, his response was so unsympathetic and so – it angers me to this day how cold that man was with me and how dismissive.’
Still, Shaun didn’t give up. He rang Mrs Rutherford, mother of the two boys whom Monroe had allegedly abused.
‘I told her what happened, because I was concerned about them. And she basically told me I was a liar. I was making it all up. And I confronted her when she said that. I was very hurt by that. I just said to her “I think you’re afraid to believe me because it then calls into question your behaviour – what’s happened with your children”. It turns out she was actually very fond of Monroe.’
This was as far as Shaun could push the matter. For all his efforts no action was taken. This led to a deep feeling of frustration and injustice that exacerbated the other impacts of the abuse and deeply damaged Shaun’s life.
‘It’s a little bit like those pendulum balls, you know. You can’t get a hit at the beginning and not have something happen at the end … After my other marriage broke down all my finances fell apart, I haven’t done my tax in 10 years.
‘I can’t cope with it. I can’t face anything. I feel like I’ve got this wonderful wife, this wonderful woman and I’m distancing myself from her, I can’t even talk about this with her. I’ve got this other side of my life that’s great and then this side is just – it’s a mess. Yeah, if I look back at it, it’s destroying me.’
Many years after the abuse occurred, Shaun contacted police in the hopes of reviving the case. The police told him that all record of his original complaint had vanished. They also informed him that Monroe was now dead.
Still, Shaun has not completely surrendered his hope of gaining some justice. He would still like to see the school principal, Mr O’Brien, held to account for his part in enabling Monroe’s abuse.
‘I would like Robert O’Brien, if there is other victims out there, to face them … I knew it was wrong and I was 17, 18. And I knew what he was doing in front of me was wrong, so how could he not know that was wrong?’