In the late 1960s when he was 11, Stefan won a scholarship to attend an Anglican school. He joined a youth group that was associated with the school’s church and with them went to social activities, Bible studies and game nights. He loved being a part of the group and making friends. He also loved having a connection to God and sharing that with other group members.
After several years, Stefan came into contact with Billy Canister, a supervisor of the youth group. Canister, aged in his late 20s, was related to one of the school staff members.
Over a period of four years, Stefan was sexually abused by Canister. The abuse occurred before and after youth group meetings, at Canister’s house, and on camping trips. Stefan was told it was their ‘little secret’ and that he couldn’t tell anyone what was happening.
‘I remember feeling totally powerless and helpless to prevent these advances. There was never any kissing or penetration, just a familiar and horrible routine of being touched.’
Stefan felt confused because he knew it was wrong, but he liked Canister’s attention. He couldn’t ‘handle or understand the intimacy’ but he liked feeling that he was important to someone. However, his grades began to fall.
In the mid-1970s, Stefan lost his scholarship. The abuse had become overwhelming and he felt he couldn’t tell anyone because of the position Canister held in the school. He did try to tell his parents but they thought he was making up lies to explain his poor academic performance.
After Stefan moved to a state high school, Canister remained in contact. Stefan often truanted and had difficulty concentrating on school work. He continued to go to youth group meetings where he saw Canister several times a week. This continued until he was 18 and moved to a different state.
Throughout his late teens and adult years, Stefan became estranged from his parents. He’d been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and described undertaking self-sabotaging behaviour that affected relationships and his career.
He first reported the abuse to the Anglican Church in the late 1980s when he told Lewis Davidson, a canon at his local church. Davidson prayed with Stefan and told him to put the abuse behind him.
Despite this advice, Stefan visited Canister’s ex-partner, Nicole, who told him that Canister had sexually abused several other children and that he’d been charged by police, but not jailed for the offences.
Stefan then raised the matter with the police himself but they were reluctant to take the matter any further.
‘The police said that I shouldn’t report them because they are a big family and had a lot of access to good resources.’
In the mid-2010s, Stefan contacted the Anglican Diocese and reported the abuse. He was offered a settlement of $100,000 and an apology, which he was happy with. He indicated that although the Church’s lawyer was unprofessional and disorganised, the rest of the people he dealt with were compassionate and seemed genuine.
‘They’ve been very helpful, the Anglican Church. They flew us down … and I met with the archbishop and we shed some tears together. He apologised on behalf of the Church.’
Stefan isn’t sure whether the Church made any reports to police about Canister and he’s not certain whether he should make a report himself as he doesn’t want to relive any more trauma.
At the time of his private session, Stefan had tried to reconnect with his children. He wanted to come to the Royal Commission to have his story heard and to be believed, and so that he could put it behind him and build a brighter future. He’s walked away from the Church but hasn’t lost his faith in God.
‘I’ve walked away from the Lord for a long time … But I’ve always had a connection with God ever since I was a little boy … I swore I would never go back to church because I don’t believe in the system.’