In the mid-1980s Stephan was a Year 9 student boarding at a Christian boys’ school in New South Wales when he was forced to masturbate housemaster Brian Quinn, who then performed oral sex on him. Soon afterwards, Quinn attempted to repeat the abuse but Stephan ran from him and the school, sleeping overnight in a park toilet block before being discovered the next morning in a café by Quinn.
‘I was caned six for that, for running away. He said that either he’ll tell the headmaster and I’ll probably be expelled or cane me six and it will all go away. So I just got caned.’
Stephan told the Commissioner that the school’s culture made it impossible for him to tell anyone about Quinn’s abuse. Its hierarchy and tacit encouragement of older boys bullying younger ones meant no one could speak out or object to anything they didn’t like. Two boys who were found to be having a sexual relationship were teased, humiliated and ostracised until they both eventually left. Rules included one that stipulated only Year 12 boys were permitted to walk on the grass; anyone else found doing so was caned.
Quinn regularly showed pornographic movies and gave alcohol and cigarettes to boys. In separate quarters, the school reverend did the same thing. ‘Drinking was a culture in the school and the reverend used to get us drunk regularly on Friday nights’, Stephan said. The reverend tried to be ‘everyone’s mate’ and would have to have known about Quinn’s abuse.
For the two years following his abuse, Stephan lived in fear of it happening again. When he left school, he drifted ‘just job to job, town to town’, moving between different cattle stations and properties.
He told the Commissioner he was still addicted to cigarettes and alcohol and in intervening years had often been depressed and had suicidal thoughts.
In 2011, a newspaper article stated that Quinn had been charged with child sex offences dating back to 1974. After reading this, Stephan rang a friend who had knowledge of legal and police systems and was advised to report his own abuse to New South Wales police.
Stephan said he was impressed by the police response. ‘They were really good. The ones I dealt with were very helpful and supportive, and they put me on to counselling. I think they did their job well. Probably understaffed, like everyone, but where it fell down was the whole prosecution side. The legal side is and was a mess.’
As word got out about Quinn being charged, more men came forward with accounts of abuse by the teacher. The case became protracted as Quinn repeatedly sought delays in proceedings. Over a three year period, four different prosecutors were assigned to the case and Stephan and the other men had to tell their stories anew to each one. The contact person kept mixing up the men’s details and statements, and on several occasions divulged private information to the wrong person. And despite Quinn pleading guilty to many of the charges, his bail continued.
In 2014, Quinn was sentenced to eight years jail with a non-parole period of four years. The sentencing judge expressed dismay that the school had allowed him to continue teaching after he’d been discovered showing pornographic films to boys in 1984.
‘One of the things that helped me was the victim impact statements’, Stephan said. ‘Not so much mine, or reading mine, but hearing the others. You may as well have sat in a room and wrote them together. They were nearly exactly the same.’ Until then, Stephan said, he’d had a sense that he was ‘the problem’, and he’d never heard anyone else ‘open up like that’.
‘You can see everyone kind of goes through the same journey after it and during. It’s a very similar journey.’
Stephan was now pursuing civil damages against the school but was finding the process tiring. A letter he received from the school’s lawyers referred to the abuse as ‘the accident’, and their appointed psychiatrist told him the abuse was his fault and that he could have said no. ‘I was pretty shocked. It was just horrendous.’
The reason for taking civil action, he said, was because the school had never accepted responsibility for protecting Quinn and not sacking him.
‘These blokes obviously thrive on the secrecy of it all, but so did the organisation … They don’t care until they get caught …
‘If there’s no spotlight on it, or no one stands up, it’s not going to stop. Like I said, this bloke didn’t stop in those periods, he just hadn’t been caught yet.’