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Spencer Thomas's story

‘I think that anybody that has been a victim of a predator really needs to tell their story, regardless of whether or not they can get a conviction. Even if the perpetrator’s dead, I think it’s very important for their own benefit and for their own growth and healing to tell the story. And that’s how it was with me.’

Spencer grew up in a loving family in suburban Sydney. In the 1960s, when he was eight years old, he met a young man called Peter Graham. Graham was regarded as something of a character in the area and Spencer came to think of him as an older brother.

When Graham started renovating a site to open a new business Spencer helped him and handed out flyers to promote it. Graham then employed Spencer in a variety of roles.

Spencer continued working for Graham until he closed the business a few years later. During this period Graham would often have no clothes on when nobody else was around on the premises. Sometimes he would have an erection and he encouraged Spencer to touch his penis. He would rub himself against Spencer’s bottom until he ejaculated.

After the business closed down, Spencer continued to see Graham and helped him renovate his home. On one occasion while they were working at the house Graham again rubbed himself against Spencer, but this time he raped him.

This felt like a very different thing to what had happened previously. It was physically aggressive, it hurt, and Spencer felt violated. By this stage he was in high school, and starting to better understand the significance of what was happening.

After the rape, he knew what Graham was doing was definitely wrong. Nevertheless he continued to see Graham and the abuse continued.

Graham purchased another business and Spencer began working for him again. This was a bigger venture and Graham had many other young boys working there too, many of whom Spencer became friends with. Graham continued to sexually abuse him, but as he got older the abuse was less frequent.

In his late teens Spencer drifted away from Graham and the business and tried to put the memories of the abuse behind him. He married and had kids and had a successful career, but sometimes the memories would intrude through his busyness.

In his 40s he decided to tell his wife about the abuse. ‘I actually expected a completely different reaction, I expected a large reaction, where it would open up a discussion – and that never happened. It was talked about once but that’s all it was talked about until I disclosed it to my counsellor.’

When at first the counsellor asked him if he had been abused as a child he denied it ‘until much, much later’. After he disclosed, the counsellor referred him to psychologist who had experience with the trauma of sexual abuse, which he found very beneficial.

‘I think a lot of people, particularly men, have a resistance to go to the shrink, it’s a stigma. And when I started going to see Mike I expected him to say, “Well, Spencer, this is what you need to do”, give me all the answers. But it’s not that at all. He asks the questions, and he makes you look within for the answers. I think once you understand that you can start making some real progress.’

It wasn’t until Spencer’s parents passed away that he was able to report the abuse to authorities. Knowing he would no longer cause them any pain and embarrassment, he attended his local police station and told two detectives what Graham had done to him when he was a boy.

‘That first interview, I felt like I was being interrogated.’ After an hour and half of questioning the detectives went and checked their records. They discovered his was not the only complaint against Graham – though there had not been any prosecution – and their attitude changed.

The investigation continued and Spencer provided names of other boys he remembered working with. In total, around 10 victims supplied statements to police. Spencer agreed to meet Graham and wear a wire, but Graham did not admit the abuse when they were together.

The matter went to trial, which for Spencer was ‘traumatic and daunting’ and delivered a ‘horrible’ outcome. A decision was made by the prosecutors to split the complainants and run two trials, with Spencer and one other man the claimants in the first trial.

Spencer feels that while the detective working on his matter was ‘fantastic’, the public prosecutor did a ‘woeful’ job by not gathering enough supporting evidence. Graham was acquitted by the jury, which was very hard for Spencer.

The second set of charges were heard immediately after this. Spencer sat through this trial too. Graham’s supporters were very vocal and sometimes aggressive, though Graham himself did not make eye contact with Spencer. ‘I tried to actually stare him down and take back the power. He didn’t actually look at me.’

Graham was convicted of nearly 40 offences, receiving a custodial sentence for each. However, these sentences were to be served concurrently, meaning his minimum period in jail was less than five years – a decision Spencer does not understand. ‘If you’re going to rape one person, rape a hundred, because the time you’re going to do is the same. It doesn’t make sense.’ On appeal, this sentence was increased by a small amount.

As there was a conviction, the second trial victims were able to read out impact statements, whereas Spencer could not do this and so feels like he did not properly have ‘my day in court’. Still he is ‘very satisfied’ about his part in reporting Graham. ‘I started the process, I put him in jail, and if I didn’t do that then he’d still be on the streets.’

Spencer is now a vocal advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse. After the court proceedings concluded he received victims of crime compensation, and also lodged a civil claim against Graham. ‘It wasn’t what I thought it should have been, but it never is. And it was more than he thought it should be.’

On a personal level, Spencer recognises how speaking out has helped with his healing. ‘That whole process of telling the story was very cathartic. And as a result of that I’ve definitely healed, grown, reflected back ... And can see how what happened to me as a child had an effect during my life.’

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