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Tom Barry's story

In the late 1990s Tom disclosed his sexual abuse to his psychologist. He had placed his son in the same Methodist (now Uniting) Church boarding school where he had been a boarder in 1960s and was finding it difficult to engage with his son’s life at the school.

‘I was going back [to the school] to pick him up and then I started to get triggers … I was a mess.’

When Tom was a 12-year-old boy, he was groomed and abused by his house master at the South Australian private school.

‘I can see now that he groomed me … He’d tell stories to us after lights out … He started talking to us and being friendly as no other master did and one night he sat on my bed and … he put my hand on his crutch and I just discovered something hard … I figured it must have been his erect penis but he’s looked at me as though to say “This is our secret. This is naughty”.

‘A week or two later he came back and sat on my bed and put his hand underneath the covers and fondled my genitals and from there it progressed to … masturbating me. He would always have his penis out … He’d do both of us and then … oral sex on me.

‘After a couple of months he’d take me out … in his car, once or twice. And I remember one of those in particular because I said to him “Are you going to play with me?” … And he said, “No, I noticed a police car”. And that sort of [gave me] a little twinge then, that maybe this is not right.’

On another occasion the house master went to Tom’s house.

‘He came to our house … for the weekend. So, he had obviously groomed Mum and Dad … He brought me back [to school] on the night before I was due to be back at school … [but] he took me to a house … which [was] quite impressive … really flash.’

At bed time, the man tried to get Tom to ‘suck his penis’.

Tom was encouraged by an older boy to report his abuse to the school headmaster. Tom agreed for the boy to tell the headmaster on his behalf. As a result the man was dismissed. But at a boarding house assembly Tom was publicly singled out as being the only victim, although he knew there were others.

His parents were never informed of the full extent of his abuse by the school and the school never spoke of it again or offered Tom support or counselling. Tom also experienced serious bullying after the assembly.

Tom was good at sports and was well liked by many of the students. The bullying did stop but he had lost confidence.

‘I was an average student … went to uni … I just lost all my self-esteem … I felt [that] everyone knew I was bad and [that] I wasn’t very bright and my football ability went down.’

Tom dropped out of university and began working in the family business. He found the work enjoyable and began to build a life for himself.

Because of his abuse he always felt he had to be obviously heterosexual.

‘I was … promiscuous. I felt I always had to have one or two girlfriends. Even when I was 15 and 16, if I didn’t have anyone lined up to take to the boarders dance, I just had to have a female, had to have a partner … [or] everyone would think I was strange.’

Tom married and the relationship continued for many years. They had children.

‘My second child was a little boy. I couldn’t take to him for about six months but I see now I think there was a fear [of becoming an abuser].’

Up until the time Tom disclosed his sexual abuse to his psychologist, he had been running his own business in South Australia and maintaining a good family life. After speaking with his psychologist, he decided to report his abuse to police.

‘I … discovered that [it was] no good – the statute of limitations – the police can’t deal with it so I thought I’d try and make him accountable [through] civil action.’

The statute of limitations was lifted in South Australia in 2003 and Tom was able to successfully pursue criminal charges against his abuser. The process took a number of years and the specificity required by the courts, about dates of abuse and locations of abuse, meant that the man was only convicted of a small number of incidences of abuse against Tom.

Tom also sued the man in the civil courts and was able to hold him to account there as well. The man settled out of court.

‘I had a meeting with him which was terrifying but satisfying sort of … I was happy about that.’

Recently, Tom took civil action against the school but after a six week trial, it was ultimately unsuccessful.

‘My cross examination was horrendous. Four days. And he bullied me … it was terrible. It’s got to change.’

After the trial, Tom spent weeks in a clinic as ‘I was a bit worried that I might commit suicide’.

‘As a result of the abuse and the school’s response I have become very unwell … I was diagnosed with PTSD … severe anxiety and depression but I covered that up with work.’

The years of pursuing his abuser and the school have taken their toll. He has had a number of stays in psychiatric hospitals and has a regular counsellor and psychiatrist. His business failed and he has only been able to get casual and irregular employment.

‘It [the civil and criminal action] probably is [worthwhile] but it’s been at a huge cost. I’ve lost 20 years and one of the saddest things is the effect it’s had on my family.’

His marriage has ended but he is now back in a good relationship with his children. He believes that if his family had better information and counselling about the legal process and about the effects of abuse on children that they would not have suffered so much throughout his years of trying to hold his abuser and school to account.

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