Tom’s family moved to a small town in rural New South Wales in the late 1960s and lived there for the next 10 years or so, devoting much of their time to the activities of the local Anglican Church.
When Tom was about six years old, he and his brother joined the Church of England Boys Society (CEBS). There they encountered a 21-year-old youth leader named Chris.
Chris went on to abuse Tom on at least two occasions. ‘I have a feeling there were more’, Tom told the Commissioner. ‘I just didn’t kind of register.’
The first incident took place within the church grounds on a Saturday morning.
‘Basically it was a lot of sort of rubbing and fondling that I – a kind of coercion I was uneasy with, but didn’t know how to kind of retract from it. He had an erection. I remember it was all kind of weird and intimidating. It felt very sort of wrong. It felt secretive.’
Several Saturdays later, Chris took Tom into the toilets of the church school and subjected him to a similar act of abuse.
Tom said he didn’t report Chris’s behaviour to anyone because his parents were already going through some tense times with the church and he didn’t want to add any more stress to their lives.
By the time he started high school the effects of the abuse were showing in Tom’s attitude and behaviour.
‘I started to clam up. It introduced a lot of trust issues very early on for me. Made me very cynical, I think, of adults and the adult world … I think the other impact as a kid is I was very confused about – for me, even those two times with Chris I do recall the sexual arousal that it provoked in me. It was very confusing.’
Nevertheless, Tom managed to do well at school. His success continued into university and then later in the workforce.
In his mid-thirties he took an extended holiday. When he returned he decided it was time to tell his parents about the abuse.
‘I had spent a good eight months overseas and had had time to reflect. And it made me wonder if my parents were in any way aware of what had happened, so I asked them if they were and they were kind of horrified. They had no idea. And then apparently they asked my brother and his response was, “Oh, did it happen to him too?”’
Tom’s brother later confided that he had been abused six times by Chris, ‘Including in our house … which was particularly disturbing to our family’.
After that, Tom was unsure about whether to push the matter any further.
‘One thing I was conscious of was playing it down a bit. I felt like, “Oh it’s just the two incidents with me and I was a kid and it wasn’t rape, for instance, it wasn’t brutal”. So if nothing else, I felt there were other people who were far worse off.’
Then in the mid-1990s he saw some of the publicity surrounding the Wood Royal Commission.
‘I remember sort of being aware that there were these men in their – in particular, their 60s or 70s breaking down basically, and that really struck a chord with me.’
He reported the abuse to police and spoke to a detective but was told that the case was too old to be worth pursuing.
But Tom was still worried about the risk of Chris re-offending. He contacted some of the leaders of the Anglican community where Chris lived to make sure they didn’t let him work with children.
After that, he decided to focus on dealing with the long-term impacts of the abuse.
‘In the early days all this made me question whether I was fit to be a parent. There was a grave fear that I’d somehow been sort of tainted or affected somehow. One person I remember I tried to confide in, her reaction was, “Oh, but a lot of victims turn into perpetrators”. That was a real slap in the face. So that really worried me. And I thought that I had to get through the therapy and all that sort of stuff before I could even think about having a serious relationship again.’
So Tom commenced weekly sessions with a counsellor. He got through the ‘therapy and all that sort of stuff’ and is now married with two children.