Topher is still unsure exactly what Robert Martin did to him during the many school counselling sessions they had when Topher was a teenage boy. His memory, he said, is full of blank spaces.
Topher ignored these spaces for much of his life, but when Martin committed suicide in the 1990s, and the truth came out that he’d been sexually abusing boys for years, Topher began to look back and wonder.
‘I learnt of the accusations the afternoon of his funeral and that’s when I started to question my own situation.’
Topher realised that from his very first counselling appointment, Martin had exploited his vulnerability and groomed him for abuse. At the time Topher was a 15-year-old student at an Anglican school. His mother had sent him there because she wanted him to have some strong male role models in his life. She had arranged the counselling sessions with Martin for the same reason.
One of Topher’s few clear memories is of his first session with Martin.
‘He has a couple of chairs that would recline. I remember him getting me to sit in that and to go through a relaxation exercise. So the tie would come off, the belt would be undone, which is pretty typical.
‘But I remember him pushing down on my belly and getting closer to the belt-line, and then I woke up with a start, like going from relaxed to startled. And his head was down level with my belly, and he said something along the lines of “Well, look at you, you look as if you’re worried you’re going to get raped. Well you’re very tense. You need to come back and see me”.’
Topher did come back to see Martin – more than 50 times according to the official record. He has some good memories of the experience and some uneasiness about it.
‘Outside of his office was incredibly clumsy and awkward for me and a number of others, but inside the office was completely informal, completely like a haven. It felt safe. Felt welcoming … I found that it’s really messed up my thinking in terms of: that was comfortable but all this other stuff happened.’
Though he has no specific memories of the ‘other stuff’ that happened, Topher can recall surrounding occurrences that suggest that Martin was sexually abusing him during the counselling sessions. For instance, Topher said, ‘I have a vague memory of tucking myself in while racing out the door’.
After he left high school, Topher continued to see Martin regularly at Martin’s home. They kept in contact for several years. Then when Topher was in his early 20s he called up Martin and had what would turn out to be their final conversation.
‘He said to me, “Look, we’ve got an unhealthy co-dependent relationship. You don’t know me. People only tell you what they want you to know. And you’re better off with me being dead”.’
A short while later Martin committed suicide and the truth came out. It was a painful and confusing time for Topher. He’d come to Martin as a lost boy, desperate for a male role model in his life, and Martin had come to play that role. This messed with Topher’s head to the point, he said, where Martin ‘and my real dad have been confused within my mind’.
As well as associating Martin with his father, Topher personally identified with him. This caused psychological havoc when Topher discovered that Martin was a paedophile.
‘My internal dialogue, my internal thinking, was very dark. Looking back now it’s very disturbing. I certainly didn’t like myself at all. I certainly saw myself to be closely knitted to him as really akin, I use that word: that I was akin to him. So for that whole 10, 20 years I felt terrified that – well if I felt so close to him I was terrified I was going to turn into the same kind of monster that he was.’
Topher has since learned through therapy that such feelings are a normal part of the confusion that arises from child sexual abuse, but at the time he was so frightened of being seen as a monster that he buried his memories and barely mentioned his experiences to anyone.
His memories, however, would not stay buried. Several years after Martin’s death, Topher was at work one day, reading an online article about child sexual abuse, when suddenly he broke down.
‘For some reason it just set me off. I just broke down there at work, and my colleagues just kicked me out the door and said, “Go to the gardens, go for a walk, call the employment assistance program” … So I called them and booked in and started getting counselling until I could get organised to see the therapist I’m now seeing who specialises in this area.’
Therapy helped Topher to feel strong enough to take the next step in his healing process, which was to contact the Anglican diocese. He was impressed with their response. They arranged to pay for his therapy, encouraged him to speak to a lawyer and gave him the contact details for a police intelligence officer.
Topher reported his experiences to police and they added his statement to their intelligence files. He also spoke to a lawyer who is currently helping him to pursue further negotiations with the Anglican Church. Throughout the process Topher has been supported by friends and family, including his wife who accompanied him to his session with the Royal Commission.
‘I feel very fortunate. I’ve got a really supportive family and friend network. I’m very thankful for that. I know others in my situation have had less and not survived at all. So I’m very thankful to have the support around me that I do have.’