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Stuart Ryan's story

‘It feels like I’m the one on trial.’

Over the last several years Stuart, now in his 40s, has done a lot of work in relation to the sexual abuse he was subjected to as a child. His legal proceedings have been very drawn out, however, and he’s losing faith in the system.

Stuart’s counsellor told the Commissioner, ‘He's a very good witness and everyone knows, and even Stuart knows, that he has been a very good witness. But he suffers incredibly, a lot of anxiety and stress. Even coming here, he was very stressed … He's sort of been walking on eggshells and it has been very difficult’.

When Stuart was seven years old, one of his teachers, Keith O’Brien, a man in his 50s, was always touchy feely. When Stuart was nine, O’Brien was no longer his teacher but he came to their house. He wanted to take Stuart to ‘visit a friend’s farm’. Stuart didn’t want to go but his mother, who was recently divorced, thought it would be good for him to have some male companionship.

They stopped at a motel overnight. O’Brien started kissing him and he insisted on sleeping in a separate bed. However, he later woke up when O’Brien was raping him.

‘I just went ballistic. That was the end of it. I told him. Swore at him. Told him never to fucking touch me again.’

Stuart disclosed to his older sister who couldn’t believe their mother wanted him to go with O’Brien. She said a lot of people at the school knew about him.

Their mother was getting counselling from another priest, Father Gallagher. He became friendly with the family and they would often stay with him on the coast. Gallagher introduced Stuart to a friend of his, Peter Lang.

Lang abused Stuart on two occasions, firstly in the presbytery and later in the sand dunes, while Gallagher was fishing at the beach. Lang was very threatening and said no one would believe Stuart if he told anyone, because he was the executive of a prominent local business.

‘I ran off after the abuse. I went down and I was in shock about what had just happened to me and I stood in the water next to him [Gallagher] and he looked down at me, just shaking his head at me … He knew what had happened and it was like he was blaming me for it, like he was just shaking his head.’

Stuart told his mother without going into detail. She was furious and reported to Father Gallagher who thanked Stuart for letting them know. He took him into a room alone and assured him this would never happen again and that other children would be safe.

But Gallagher did nothing about it. In fact, he told Stuart’s mother that the abuse didn’t occur and she believed him. Not Stuart.

When he was 12 and at high school, Stuart met Father Sean Leary who ran the youth group. Stuart and his family had moved house and were new to the area. ‘I liked him, I thought he was a good bloke. He would get us over at the hall and, you know, play with us and play cricket with us and I just thought it was good to have someone like him to hang around and that.’

However, on one occasion, Leary suggested a private wrestle. ‘Leary started wrestling me and he was just really hard and locked me in the room and wouldn't let me out, and I was pretty scared. He had me in between his legs and was rubbing his penis all over me.’

Stuart told his sister about this abuse too and, as far as he knows, she didn’t tell anyone.

Before all the sexual abuse started, Stuart was fine at his schoolwork. But this declined rapidly with lasting effects. He was unable to read properly until he was 18. He became a heavy drinker and would steal alcohol.

‘I was somewhat of a troubled teenager, I used to get into a lot of trouble, a lot of fights. With schoolwork, I always struggled with that … Yeah, I was pretty mixed up.’

Throughout his life, Stuart would tell himself that the abuse wasn’t that bad. However, about seven years ago he started getting nervous attacks. He went to counselling, which he found helpful, and his childhood abuse came up. He has symptoms of PTSD and depression. He's on medication to help him sleep. Before that, he had nightmares.

Not long after going to counselling, Stuart went to the police and made a statement about each of his abusers. O’Brien had already served a jail term in relation to other sex offences. He died while the abuse against Stuart was being investigated. Knowing that O’Brien had been previously convicted did help Stuart, but he still felt very angry.

Peter Lang also served a jail sentence but is now dead. However, Stuart attended a committal hearing in relation to Father Gallagher not reporting the crime against him. But Gallagher was acquitted. The police want Stuart’s permission to appeal this decision. But he's unsure about giving it. ‘It’s just been going on for so long.’

The matter with Father Leary is ongoing. It has drawn out over three years so far. There have been seven complainants against Leary. However, not all seven will be heard together in court. Stuart’s case is on its own. ‘I can't describe how angry I was when I found out that I was going to be by myself.’

Stuart has gotten on with his life. He works. He’s married and has a family. But sometimes he struggles to put one foot in front of the other. He's quick to anger. Stuart’s wife agreed it has been hard. Really hard.

As Stuart’s counsellor said to the Commissioner, ‘I think one of the difficulties that we face in therapy is the protracted legal system gets in the way of doing the therapy. So people are strung out for a long time, and that's the case with Stuart’.

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