Thom was born in the mid-1960s, and raised and educated in western Sydney. His family experienced some ‘extraordinary problems’, but his parents were ‘just like gold in the way that they … sought to love their children, and did love their children, in very difficult circumstances’. Thom’s father was a good provider, but he was often away from home due to the nature of his job.
In the 1970s, a man called Owen Lincoln joined Thom’s Anglican church. Owen was ‘a highly esteemed Christian leader’ and youth worker who ‘fairly quickly’ became involved in the church community. He also supported Thom’s family through some difficult periods. So ‘my mum and dad almost had a bit of a dependency relationship on him’, Thom said.
Owen sexually abused Thom over a four-year period. The first incident occurred during a trip, and involved Owen placing his hand down the back of Thom’s pyjama pants. At the time, Thom felt that this was ‘pretty special’ because Owen was a respected man who was important to his parents. ‘I thought that was unusual, but I wasn't distressed by it’, Thom said.
Owen took Thom on outings, and about a year later, sexually abused him during a long holiday. ‘I remember Owen coming into my room where I was asleep and placing his hand on my penis’, Thom said. ‘It was obviously pleasurable, and I think an ejaculation took place … He justified the action by saying, you know, he was comforting me in the midst of my nightmare.’
‘Over the next few years … there would be numerous instances, too many to recount, where he would masturbate me to the point of ejaculation. And … he would say things like, “A father … should teach his son how to masturbate”.’
As a teenage boy, Thom’s ‘hormones were going crazy’, and he found the contact to be a ‘pleasurable’ experience that he ‘didn’t shy away from’. He ‘wasn’t distressed’ because he had a ‘trust relationship’ with Owen. The behaviour seemed normal, and ‘at no time did it become violent’. It was simply ‘our secret’, he said.
Owen once expressed regret about this ‘bad thing’ he was doing. Later Thom told him that he had confided in Paul Holland, an older friend in a ministry team. Owen then disclosed to Thom’s mother, justified his behaviour, and tried to blame Thom, in part, for what had happened. Wanting to protect her son, and ‘keep their family dysfunctionality quiet’, Thom’s mother decided against pressing charges.
Owen left the church, and Thom ‘really just tried to get on with life’. However, in the following years, when Thom confided in some ‘older Christians’, he experienced the ‘awful irony’ of being abused by the men he had disclosed to.
Paul Holland developed a ‘replacement close relationship’ with Thom which was ‘unhealthy’. He touched Thom’s genitals on one occasion, and left Thom feeling conflicted. ‘At one level, I wasn't to blame’, Thom said. ‘At another level, you know, haven't I learned my lesson?’
Thom ended that relationship, much to Paul’s ‘annoyance’, and sought counselling from Nigel Ryan, who was ‘highly esteemed’ within the Church. Nigel had spent ‘many Sunday nights’ talking with Thom about his problems, and when he touched his genitals on one occasion, he did so with Thom’s permission.
Nigel turned out to be ‘a paedophile in the making’, and is currently serving a jail sentence for molesting children. Even though Thom was over 18 at the time, he prays that he made the right decision to not report this incident. ‘Should I have done that at the time to help alert people so that no further offences were committed? … That's the thing that I struggle with’, he said.
Thom completed a university degree, and benefited from a number of ‘healing influences’ that came into his life. Two ‘good and Godly men’, who ‘really were substitute father-figures’ for him, helped him to grow in his Christian faith. He worked actively in the Church, embarked on a career and got married.
Until about 15 years ago, Thom managed his feelings of guilt and was able to function well. Then he re-encountered Owen and gave the man his forgiveness. There were positive and negative repercussions. ‘For the first time … he was … ascribing blame to himself for that, and so my guilt went down,’ Thom said. ‘But, not surprisingly … the awareness, the emotional awareness of the fact that I had been abused, therefore, that goes up.’
Thom started to remember the abuse, and sought the help of a psychologist. He developed an ‘obsessive compulsive disposition’, and an anxiety around children which led him to implement a strict practice where he would never work near children alone.
Thom thanks God that the abuse he suffered as a child did not impact ‘gravely’ upon his happy marriage and family life.