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Trent Michael's story

Trent and his older brother Jason were raised by dysfunctional parents in an isolated home where little English was spoken. As a result, when Trent went off to primary school at a local state school in Victoria, he arrived with low confidence and few skills.

He struggled through his first year or so, making little progress. Then, in the late 1990s when he was six years old, he started the new year with a new teacher who took a special interest in him and taught him how to read and write. At first, Trent was thrilled with the attention.

‘He was this teacher who cared for me. First adult male role model … He was awesome. He was into sport. He taught me how to do all this great stuff. But then it came at a cost.’

The teacher began sexually abusing Trent. His usual technique was to isolate Trent in the reading corner, cover his lap with a blanket and touch his penis. Other than using the blanket, the teacher made no effort to hide what he was doing and would sometimes talk to other children while continuing to abuse Trent.

Trent felt confused. He wanted attention from the teacher but knew that the abuse was wrong.

‘He’s like got this sincerity in his eyes and like he’s giving you this attention and then gradually the hand just goes down your pants and it’s like this whole power control with the eyes and you tense up and you’re uncomfortable and he gives you that – it’s a look like “Oh, everything’s okay”.’

The abuse continued off and on for the whole of the year. Trent was too scared and embarrassed to tell anyone about it. Still, his brother Jason sensed that something was wrong.

Jason, who accompanied Trent to his session with the Royal Commission, explained that at the time of the abuse some of the staff and parents suspected that the teacher was a paedophile. Jason warned Trent to stay away from the teacher and tried to stop him attending an excursion with the teacher at the end of the year.

But Trent went over Jason’s head, spoke to his parents and got permission to go. Why was he keen to go on an excursion with his abuser? Trent said that he was so desperate to experience a fun, social outing that he was willing to pay ‘the cost’.

During the excursion the teacher took out his blanket, placed it over Trent and abused him. Afterwards he drove to a secluded carpark and took each boy for a ‘driving lesson’, sitting them on his crotch while they steered the car. That was the last time the teacher abused Trent.

Trent saw the teacher every now and then over the next few years. Then when Trent was about 10 the teacher vanished. He left his personal belongings behind in the classroom one day and never came back. The school offered no explanation.

Around this time, Trent became ‘obsessed’ with his genital area. He masturbated frequently and engaged in other sexualised behaviours that always left him feeling ‘guilty and dirty’. In his mid-teens he struggled with mixed feelings about his sexuality and gender identity.

‘I started to have gay fantasies about my peers and stuff and it was really confusing. And then this led to me wanting to go back to a time where he could abuse me more, like wanting to be taken advantage of. I started to regret – “I wish I did more back then … I wish I somehow led him on more to expose myself to this abuse, to relive it” …

‘And then instead of being gay I wanted to be a female. I started to question – had sort of like a gender crisis. I really wanted to be a female. Because he took advantage of me and stuff and I was sort of like – you know, in high school you know a bit more about pornography and stuff and you sort of see the whole role of the women, the way it’s portrayed in pornography, and it’s sort of like I wanted to be like that. Like, because the way he did that, that whole power that he had over me.’

‘Tormented’ by these feelings, Trent sought relief through sexualised self-harm. Relief did not come and he ended up doing himself ongoing physical damage.

Paranoid thoughts dogged him in his early adulthood. He became convinced that he had HIV and secretly hoped that the world would end before his symptoms became noticeable. He hated being touched by people and avoided intimate relationships. Whenever he did something good for others he questioned his own motives and wondered if he was grooming people just as the teacher had.

Jason observed these behaviours and pushed Trent to talk about them until finally, in the 2010s, Trent opened up and told his brother what the teacher had done. Trent went on to get some therapy which helped him to feel ‘less like a freak’.

He also reported the teacher to police. The police arranged for him to make a secretly recorded phone call to the teacher. Trent did so but the teacher hung up on him. Since then the police have been pursuing other leads and the case is ongoing.

Recently Trent finished some study in the field of education. He was worried by the scant attention paid to child safety and wellbeing.

‘It was all pedagogical – about the environment, in terms of making conditions for learning and stuff like proper practices, theorists and stuff but we never really spoke about just the wellbeing completely … There was no awareness of childhood development.’

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