Theo was a student at a Marist Brothers school in Queensland in the late 1970s when he was first sexually abused. The perpetrator was his Year 8 teacher, Brother James.
‘He used to get me to sit on his lap’, Theo told the Commissioner, ‘and then touch me. And I didn’t know what to do so I wouldn’t do nothing.’ The abused usually happened at lunchtimes and sometimes on school excursions, particularly when the kids went swimming. ‘When you’d be in the water he’d be just touching you in the water. Just grabbing, just holding you down there and playing with you.’
The abuse continued off and on for the whole of the school year. When Theo returned from holidays and entered Year 9 he had new teachers and no longer had to deal with Brother James.
One of Theo’s new teachers was a woman named Lauren Miller. She knew many details of Theo’s home life: that his father worked a lot and that his mother was unwell. She offered to give Theo private tutoring at her home. Theo’s dad approved, and so did Theo. He enjoyed the tutoring sessions at first.
‘I’d go round there and we’d have tea and she’d talk and buy chips and sweets and stuff for me. Then one night she was just touching me on the leg. I didn’t think much of it. Then she just grabbed my hand and walked me into the room and that was it …
‘I was 14. I didn’t know what to do. I thought she was being sweet to me or something. I didn’t even think of that until she just started touching me and then she’d do all this other stuff to herself and made me lay on the bed. That went on for the next year and a half.’
Theo was ‘too embarrassed’ to tell anyone what Miller was doing to him. Anyway, he said, many people already knew about it and didn’t seem to care. One of Miller’s fellow teachers stayed in Miller’s flat a few times while Theo was being abused in the other room. ‘She knew that Lauren was having her way with me and she didn’t do nothing about it.’
Another teacher and his partner also knew what was going on and never intervened. Miller used to take Theo out to this teacher’s property, where the teacher and his partner would swim naked in front of Theo.
‘I’d be embarrassed, I’d be sitting there. I’m just like 14 years old and these people are swimming around naked in front of me. And it was like he knew too. I mean, why would you do that? I couldn’t work it out and I couldn’t understand what was happening to me.’
Theo started to get sick with ‘panic attacks and paranoia’. He began to believe that everyone at school knew about the abuse.
‘Every time they spoke and looked at me and laughed – and they could have been talking about something else but looking at me – I’d think they were talking about me … That’s what made me really fearful of everything, like my friends.
‘Sometimes your friends at school, they tease you, because they’d see you in the car with her. And they’d tease me. It was like another thing to sort of deal with. And being Indigenous in those days, it wasn’t like it is today. It was tough. You’d get a lot of racist remarks at school too.’
By this stage, Miller had introduced Theo to cannabis, which made him sick and exacerbated his feelings of panic and dizziness. Theo was hospitalised a few times and once prescribed Prozac by a doctor, but the medication only made him feel worse. When he felt really bad he’d ‘go up to the church and sit down in the church until I felt good then I’d walk out. The church would be empty and I’d just sit in there and cry’.
Theo left school at the end of Year 10 and escaped his abuser for good. He travelled around, did various labouring jobs and completed a higher education course. All the while he struggled with bad memories. ‘This thing takes over me, so I’d take drugs and alcohol because it would suppress it.’
Theo tried various enterprises and career paths but none of them ever took off as well as he’d hoped. ‘I’ve always fallen short of success because of this thing that I carry with me. I’ve had plenty of opportunity and I’ve always blown it.’
At a funeral one time he ran into an old schoolmate who revealed that he had been abused by Brother James. Even then, Theo still felt too embarrassed to talk about his own experiences. He kept them to himself until very recently when he contacted the Royal Commission who then connected him with the legal service, knowmore. After speaking to them, Theo opened up to his sister.
‘She knew something was wrong from a young age, because she used to look after me, and she didn’t know what was wrong with me – because I changed. Now she’s really fuming and she wants me to go to the police and do all that, and I said “No”. I’m just leaving that up to my lawyers and just let them deal – whatever they think is the right way to go.’
Theo now receives support from a healthcare professional and one of his good friends. Years ago he returned to his family’s land where he built a thriving business that he’s now hoping to expand.