‘His purposeful, malevolent actions were akin to tying a piece of meat to a child’s leg and then thrusting that child into the lions’ den.’
Teo attended a Catholic boys’ school in regional NSW in the 1970s. The 14-year-old was aggressively groomed by a teacher, Father Peter Myers. ‘He visited my parents’ home for dinner’, Teo told the Commissioner. ‘He introduced me to alcohol, took me on trips to Sydney, and fawned all over me.’
When Father Myers tried to take his attentions to the next level, Teo rejected his advances. ‘In front of my peers he grabbed me by the throat, verbally abused me, shook me violently and threw me into a chair.’
At that time Teo was struggling with his emerging sexuality. Myers took revenge by ‘outing’ him as a homosexual in front of his class. Teo was made to suffer. ‘My peers bashed me, spat on me, beat me with rattans, and called me every homophobic slur you could name.’
Teo stopped going to school. He would walk every day in a forest near his home. He came to the attention of a welfare officer who was unsympathetic to Teo’s reports of abuse and bullying. Teo was told to return to school, or he’d be sent to a juvenile justice centre as a ‘truant’.
Teo attempted suicide, but eventually was forced to return to school where he endured more bullying.
Father Myers had other ‘favourites’ he targeted for abuse, and Teo believes his activities were well known at the time among students and staff. But the sexual abuse was common even before Myers arrived at the school.
Teo recalls overhearing a cook from the school talking to a shopkeeper in town. ‘She stated how disgusting it was that priests were bringing pupils to their bedrooms to sexually assault them. She was unequivocal in what she said then, and also her rage was palpable.’ This was a year before Myers joined the staff.
The school’s headmaster enabled the abuse, Teo reports. ‘A boy runs screaming down the corridor, having been sexually assaulted [in the priests’ quarters]. And a fellow boy in my class said, “Fuck this, I’m going to complain to the principal”.’ The boy left the classroom, but returned quickly. ‘He said that he’d been told by [the headmaster] that if he ever said anything like that again, if he ever made any such allegation, he would be immediately expelled.’
Teo’s experiences at school, combined with an abusive life at home with his violent father, have left him with ‘crippling complex trauma’.
‘I have to retain a sense of distance from people. Even in my personal life – I have a partner but we live separately … I can never rely on anyone … I’d self-implode rather than seek support from others.’
Teo lives with constant thoughts of suicide, which he traces back to his sense of abandonment in his teens. ‘I was pretty much free to be abused. It was open slather, it was not like anyone could protect me, even the state government authority, the child welfare at that time.’
Faced with difficult situations, Teo retreats. He has often faced bullying behaviour and violence in the workplace. ‘When those things occur, instead of doing what a normal person would do, I actually submit to the person perpetrating violence against me. That makes me extremely vulnerable to re-traumatisation.’
Teo developed a number of coping mechanisms. ‘My protective factor was an inner dialogue that I’m okay, no matter what was happening – I was okay. And also there’s a fair degree of dissociation, so I can take myself out of this world and into a sense of being in a normal world.’
‘My whole life’s been dedicated to other people. When I get into really big trouble is when I focus on myself too much.’
Nevertheless Teo feels he needs ongoing treatment from the right psychologist. ‘I need that counselling as my life goes on, the way a diabetic needs insulin.’ He has not been able to obtain support for this treatment from a number of agencies and this remains a frustration.
Teo believes there is a culture of silence and inaction over abuse which has been common historically in institutions from schools to residential care facilities, and extends into parent organisations like churches and even into government welfare agencies to this day.
‘These authorities are there to advocate for the people on the ground and they’re not doing it.’